Business / Economy

Hospital, nurses’ union settle contract dispute

Nurses' union, which had held a one-day strike, agrees to four-year contract that includes a 9 percent raise over the life of the deal

Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital and nurses represented by the California Nurses Association (CNA) have successfully completed negotiations with nurses voting unanimously to ratify a new four-year contract. The District Board will vote on whether to approve the contract at its October meeting.

"This agreement is a model of compromise and represents a tremendous amount of hard work from everyone at the bargaining table," stated Gordon Machado, San Benito Health Care District board president. “Not only does this contract acknowledge the value of our nurses, it is also consistent with the Healthcare District’s commitment to high quality care and responsible management of District resources.”

The hospital, in a press release, said "The contract provides very competitive pay increases and maintains a comprehensive package of benefits, including low-cost health coverage and a defined benefit pension plan."

Ken Underwood, CEO of Hazel Hawkins, said, “I want to commend both bargaining teams who worked through some complex and difficult issues to reach an agreement. We appreciate the dedication of our nurses and we are focused on working together as a team in providing outstanding care for our community.”

The CNA said the new pact covers the 120 registered nurses at Hazel Hawkins, a public hospital that serves residents of the San Benito County Health District. The district includes two skilled nursing facilities, home health care and several clinics.

Nurses held a one-day strike in August to make public their contract concerns.

The agreement comes after five months of "concerted actions by nurses to fend off management proposals that they say would have undermined their ability to provide safe quality patient care," the CNA said in a press release. "The hospital spent over $1 million of public funds to hire one of the largest law firms in the nation, specializing in 'union avoidance' and labor relations strategies, to advise them in contract negotiations. Despite this, the nurses prevailed in winning an agreement that preserves and improves safe nursing standards, addresses the hospital's chronic short staffing, improves retention and recruitment, and strengthens the voice of RNs in patient care."

Shanell Kerkes, RN, of the Hazel Hawkins emergency department, said the nurses' negotiating team "is ecstatic over this tentative agreement and particularly proud of the new contract language we won, which will give nurses a real voice in patient care and nursing practice decisions. We want to thank the more than 300 Hollister residents who put out our signs of support, stood with us at hospital board of directors’ meetings, and offered to help in many other ways. As public sector nurses who chose to live and work here in San Benito County, our nurses have always seen our patients as friends, family and neighbors and we couldn't have reached this new agreement without them.”

Registered nurse Rene Stewart-Homes, who works in the hospital's labor and delivery department, called the agreement "a huge victory, nearly two years in the making, and it happened because nurses and our community members came together as one. Our RNs should be extremely proud of what we have won for our patients, neighbors and nursing practice.”

According to the CNA, highlights of the agreement include:

  • Improved contract protections against "unsafe" staffing practices including adequate meal and rest breaks and 12-hour rest periods between shifts.
  • Maintenance of pension, health and dental plan coverage.
  • Improved contract language expanding the use of regular employees over temporary contract workers including posting RN positions as regular tiered positions after they are vacant for three months and ensuring that part-time and per diem RNs have seniority in scheduling over temporary nurses.
  • Creation of a Nurse Quality Forum in which RNs meet with management to address patient care and working conditions, including staffing, standards, training, and workplace injuries.
  • Reversal of pension plan takeaways.
  • Economic gains to help with nurse recruitment and retention that include raises of 9 percent over the term of the four-year contract.


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BenitoLink Staff