Last night, in a divided decision, the board of directors for El Camino Hospital unilaterally approved a new contract between the healthcare organization and its nurses' union.
The "last, best and final offer," hospital officials said, was a necessary money saving measure in difficult times. It was uniformly opposed by the nurses union and called "unfair, unnecessary" and disrespectful by a nurse who addressed the board.
The motion to approve the contract carried with a 3-2 vote. Board members Wesley F. Alles, David Reeder and John L. Zoglin voted in favor the new contract. Board members Patricia A. Einarson and Uwe R. Kladde opposed the motion.
Upon passage of the motion a murmur of discontent rippled through the crowd of about 50 nurses who had gathered to demonstrate the union's opposition to the contract.
"It's a joke," one nurse said to colleagues as she walked out of the meeting room. Nurses are unhappy with changes and cuts to the amount of paid time off, sick leave, medical benefits and compensation.
During the meeting, many nurses whispered disapproval and made incredulous expressions as hospital administrators explained why they felt the changes and cuts were needed.
Ken Graham, CEO of the hospital, said that healthcare reform and falling revenues due to the nationwide recession forced the hospital to make the cuts. "We do not believe this will be perceived as anything but responsible by the community," Graham said.
Charlene Glinieki, chief people officer for El Camino, said she sympathizes with the views of the nurses union, but agreed with Graham.
"Obviously we would prefer not to need to implement these changes," Glinieki said. However, she added, in order to meet the financial challenges the hospital is facing, "these changes are necessary."
Pat Briggs, president of Professional Resource for Nurses, the hospital's nurses union, told the board that she feels that a better contract could be drafted, if only the hospital would give the nurses' bargaining unit more time.
"We want one more chance to go back to the table and reach an agreement," Briggs told the board, noting that she sympathizes with the tight financial situation the hospital is facing.
Over the summer El Camino Hospital announced that it would have to lay off 140 employees, including support staff, nurses and administrators, in order to deal with falling revenues largely attributed to lower patient volumes. The majority of support staff and nurses' jobs were saved, however, after union negotiations shuffled employees around to different positions within the hospital.