Nurses, county OK new contract

Nurses vote OKs negotiated pact for 17 percent total raises

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Nurses at Santa Clara County hospitals, including St. Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy, voted to approve a new contract, and the county Board of Supervisors approved the deal Jan. 15 for 17 percent in wage increases over four years.

The Registered Nurses Professional Association, which represents more than 3,000 nurses in the county’s three-hospital Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System, announced Jan. 14 that 88 percent of members had voted to support the contract, ending any threat of a strike that the nurses had authorized if talks failed.

“The agreement will implement competitive wages, hours and safer working conditions and staffing ratios that nurses fought for months to win,” said Debbie Chang, union president and Valley Medical Center registered nurse.  “The agreement helps close the gap in pay and working conditions between county health facilities and local private hospitals.”

“By standing together we reminded county leaders the critical role nurses play in the health of our communities,” said Chang, who said nurses “look forward to building a new partnership with the county and delivering the highest quality care to our patients in a safe and dignified workplace.”

The new contract provides 3 percent wage increases per year for four years, plus a 4 percent across-the-board “realignment” increase the first year, and an additional 1 percent realignment increase the second year. The new contract also increases night, weekend and other pay differentials.

It also establishes minimum staffing levels, creating a professional performance committee, and expands registered nurse positions. The contract also prevents the county from hiring unbenefited newly graduated nurses at lower wages. 

The two sides announced on Christmas Eve they had reached a tentative agreement.

The ratification voting took place Jan. 3-12. The new agreement will cover more than 3,000 nurses working in the Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System, including St. Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy and DePaul Health Clinic in Morgan Hill, and O’Connor Hospital and Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose.

The new contract with Santa Clara County will cover RNPA nurses for the next four years. RNPA nurses’s previous contract with the county expired Oct. 20. The two parties had been in negotiations since late summer.

The tentative agreement with the nurses still leaves Santa Clara County with a lingering labor dispute with its biggest union, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 521, representing more than 12,000 employees. SEIU Local 521 early this month pulled out of mediation sessions after several weeks, claiming county negotiators weren’t dealing with vacancy and retention issues.

The SEIU represents more than half of the county’s 22,000-member workforce, but claims that they account for barely a third of the county payroll.

“Rank-and-file members call on the Board of Supervisors to justify offering 6 percent raises to lowest-paid workers and 11 percent to managers over the next two years while county claims financial hardship,” the union said in a statement released Dec. 18.

After weeks of voluntary mediation between the county and the SEIU, the workers’ bargaining team ended the mediation talks after they said the Board of Supervisors refused to address a “widespread vacancy and retention crisis” in county government.

County Executive Officer Jeff Smith said county vacancy rates are comparable with other local governments.

The SEIU also expressed concern about raises the county has settled on with its management employees. 

On Dec. 4, the county announced an offer to management employees that would increase pay by 6 percent in 2019, 5 percent in 2020, and 3 percent per year thereafter.