Nurses await reply to counter-offer; hospitals say talks over

May 4, 2010, 1:03 a.m.
Nurses await reply to counter-offer; hospitals say talks over
Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital are still at odds with their nurses. (ARNAV MOUDGIL/Staff Photographer)

Stanford nurses have submitted a counterproposal to Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital as negotiations for a new contract remain deadlocked.

The two parties’ old contract expired in March after months of negotiations failed to satisfy the demands of the hospitals and nurses. Two weeks ago, 2,302 out of 2,700 nurses represented by the Committee for Recognition of Nursing Achievement (CRONA) rejected the hospitals’ “last, best and final offer.”

Though CRONA accepted the wage proposals from the hospitals’ last offer, it finds contention with other points; in particular, the union’s counterproposal centers on a new professional development program and paid time off.

Negotiations between the union and the hospitals have soured in recent weeks, with CRONA representatives accusing the hospitals of rejecting multiple requests to meet and discuss the situation.

“It was obvious from the beginning that the hospital had no interest in talking to us,” said CRONA lead attorney Peter Nussbaum.

Lucile Packard spokesperson Sarah Staley stated that the hospitals are not interested in further bargaining.

“The bargaining process was done in March,” Staley said. “I think it’s fair to say that what we’ve proposed is competitive, generous and fair. If what the nurses propose is within the parameters of our last, best and final offer, we would certainly be up to hearing those.”

CRONA is awaiting the hospitals’ response to its counterproposal, which is expected this week.

According to law, both parties must continue to follow their old contract until a new contract is in place. However, negotiations remain stalled, and the hospitals could attempt to declare an impasse, which would effectively institute the hospital’s latest proposal.

Nussbaum said if the hospitals did so, the nurses would not rule out the option of going on strike.

Professional Nurse Development Program

Central to the current dispute is the hospital’s proposed Professional Nurse Development Program.

Within the hospitals, nurses are ranked according to a four-step hierarchy, in which employees at nurse-four status are the highest ranked. The hospital’s new development program rewrites the requirements that nurses must fulfill in order to move up the ladder or retain their current status.

CRONA representatives claim the new point system sets unattainable standards for nurses and downgrades years of experience in favor of article-writing and symposium attendance. Under the hospital’s last proposal, nurses would not only have to satisfy the point requirements, but be evaluated by a panel in order to receive promotions. Nussbaum called the interview process “totally subjective.”

“Experience is more important than diplomas,” said CRONA president Lorie Johnson, who is also a nurse in Stanford Hospital’s Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit. “A nurse who is not able to publish and cannot present himself or herself flawlessly in front of a panel will not get promoted.”

CRONA’s counterproposal requests that the hospital institute an appeal process for nurses who fail the interview.

Nussbaum believes that the program is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” designed to demote a large number of level three and four nurses. He claimed that under the new program, with fewer nurses able to attain senior status, the hospitals will save $15 to $20 million annually.

Responding to the claim, Staley said accusations of financial motivation are a “complete misrepresentation” of the hospitals’ intention.

“We feel strongly about [the program] because it advances nursing practice,” she said, “and we hold ourselves to a high level of performance.”

The hospitals would not say how many nurses’ statuses would be affected or whether the program would have any significant financial effects.

Paid Time Off

The other key issue concerns paid time off. The hospitals stress that although they would not offer employees separate accounts of guaranteed sick leave, vacations and holidays, nurses would be able to save and carry up to 520 hours of paid time off.

CRONA’s counterproposal suggestions mainly deal with the way in which paid time off is accrued and compensated. For instance, the union suggested that a staff nurse who has a balance of 480 hours of paid time off ought to have the option of using the time within 90 days or be paid for up to 80 hours.

The Stanford Packard Facts website lists accrual hours compared to a number of hospitals, including the Daughters of Charity hospitals, the John Muir Health System and the Sutter hospitals. The Stanford hospitals claim their maximum accrual amount is the highest.

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