After returning to the bargaining table with the nurses' union, El Camino Hospital has partially reinstated one of the benefits that had initially been eliminated in the "last, best and final offer" contract the board of directors unilaterally passed in November.
The reinstated benefit allows nurses to once again earn paid time off -- or PTO -- when taking time off. The contract passed in November made it so nurses would no longer earn PTO on their days off.
"That was the biggest complaint that the nurses had about the imposed contract," said Pat Briggs, president of the union, Professional Resource for Nurses, known as PRN. Starting in July, the PTO structure will return to the way it had been before November -- almost.
"It will not be completely back to the way it was before," Briggs said. According to her, nurses used to earn paid time off when they were going to continuing education classes -- a requirement -- and during extended leaves of absence. In the newly revised contract nurses will not earn PTO in those instances. They will, however, earn PTO when on vacation and regular sick leave.
The board imposed El Camino Hospital's "last, best and final" offer on Nov. 10, after lengthy negotiations with the nurses' union. The contract was uniformly opposed by PRN and was called "unfair, unnecessary" and disrespectful by one of the nurses who addressed the board at November's public board meeting.
The board narrowly approved the contract in a split 3-2 vote. Administrators who spoke at the meeting in favor of passing the contract cited tough economic times.
But Briggs said that in fighting for this benefit, the nurses were not asking for an unreasonable perk.
"It is the standard in employment that you earn vacation time when you take vacation time," she said. "We were below the standard. So, it really put us out of competition with the other hospitals in the area, and that put us at a grave disadvantage."
Charlene Gliniecki, vice president of human resources for El Camino, agreed with Briggs, noting in an e-mail that the hospital reconsidered its stance on nurse PTO in order to keep the hospital competitive with other hospitals in the area.
"The hospital values the contribution nurses make to patient care and the relationship built over 10 years of negotiations based on our mutual interests," Gliniecki wrote in the e-mail.
When asked whether the change to the contract would be enough to repair the relationship between the El Camino administration and nurses, Briggs replied: "It's a small step. That's all I'd say."