El Camino Hospital nurses reject new contract

Poor timing of big payout to exiting CEO could have soured the deal

El Camino Hospital's nurses' union will be heading back to the bargaining table, after its membership voted to reject a tentative agreement with the hospital on a new three-year contract, according to an announcement made Friday, Oct. 7.

The vote against the contract is a sign that nurses remain unhappy with concessions on wages and pay cuts for working nights and weekends in the new contract.

The bargaining team for the Professional Resource for Nurses (PRN) union has been negotiating with hospital officials on a new contract since March, and both parties only recently came together on a tentative contract following a lengthy mediation process. Negotiations have stalled for months, nurses argue, because El Camino refused to budge on major issues related to hourly pay and health care benefits.

These complaints reached a tipping point last month, when hundreds of nurses picketed in front of the hospital's Mountain View campus.

Although details are scarce on what the hospital has offered in the past, PRN leadership has made crystal clear what they're seeking: a 12 percent bump in wages over the next three years, and no cuts to "differential" pay for nurses working weekends and late hours. PRN representatives also say El Camino Hospital has tried to cut health care benefits for nurses' dependents and spouses -- something that they believe would cost part-time nurses an extra $9,500 every year.

Nurses at the September picketing event questioned why these cuts would come at a time when the hospital has shown financial growth and stability, and has put away excess revenue in amounts ranging from $40 million and $70 million at the end of the fiscal year. In a letter to El Camino Hospital's nurses back in July, Chief Nursing Officer Cheryl Reinking countered the argument that the hospital was in for smooth sailing. She wrote that El Camino faces a volatile and changing health insurance market in the coming years, along with an "increasingly competitive" market in the South Bay and greater San Francisco Bay Area.

The tentative contract, announced on Sept. 24, includes a wage increase of 10 percent for all nurses over the next three years, retroactive to March 28, and preserves existing healthcare benefits for nurses working full- and part-time. Differential pay still takes a hit in the tentative agreement -- nurses would get paid 19 percent more for night shifts and 9 percent for weekends, down from 20 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

Despite compromises from both sides, the nurses narrowly voted to reject the agreement. Christopher Platten, the attorney representing PRN, said they will be heading back to the bargaining table to review all of the negative aspects of the prior proposal for revision. The hope is that a new agreement can be brought back to union membership. There are plenty of options and flexibility to revise the contract, and Platten indicated they are no nearer to a worker strike.

Platten said that any number of concessions in the new contract could have been the poison pill for the nurses voting against the ratification, but he believes the failed vote could be chalked up to very bad timing on the part of El Camino Hospital's board of directors.

Right around the time both PRN and the hospital's negotiating team came together on the tentative agreement, the board of directors approved a CEO "incentive pay" bonus of $223,673 for hospital president and CEO Tomi Ryba. Just a month before, board members agreed not to renew Ryba's five-year contract at the end of October, but still gave her the incentive pay on top of her $800,300 salary. Platten said it's clear nurses are both "frustrated and angry" that the exiting CEO is awarded close to a quarter of a million dollars as a severance package while nurses are being asked to take a pay cut for night time and weekend work.

"The timing could not have been worse or more stupid, from the nurses' standpoint," Platten said. "The money from the reduced differentials ... can't be that much more than a quarter million dollars. It's just a stupid move."

Other troublesome parts of the contract include "enterprise work assignments," Platten said, where new or per diem nurses, or nurses who transfer to another department, would be forced to "float" between the hospital's two campuses, depending on where they are needed. It can be frustrating, he said, to have nurses drive long hours to get to the Mountain View hospital campus, only to find out they've been assigned over in Los Gatos.

Throughout the negotiation process, PRN representatives have argued that the hospital needs to invest in and support its nursing staff, which has shown a strong track record for high-quality performance and care. El Camino Hospital is one of only two hospitals in Santa Clara County to receive "magnet" status by the American Nursing Credentialing Center, and has received the designation multiple times. El Camino Hospital has also ranked one of the best hospitals in the area for reducing and preventing hospital-acquired illnesses and infections for patients.

"We are disappointed to learn that a vote by PRN members did not ratify this agreement," hospital officials said in response to the Voice's request for comment.

Hospital officials said in a statement Friday that they have asked the state-appointed neutral factfinder to resume his work on a formal report evaluating both parties' earlier proposals. "Our goal is, and always has been, to ensure that our nurses are well compensated for the outstanding patient care they provide, while maintaining fiscal responsibility in managing the hospital's resources," the statement said.

During the picketing event last month, Reinking told the Voice that the hospital historically has kept a strong relationship with its nursing staff, and that the nurses' union hasn't staged an informational picket like that in 20 years. She also defended the wages and differentials originally proposed by the hospital, and said they are consistent with other hospitals in the area.

The current three-year memorandum of understanding between El Camino Hospital and PRN, which expired earlier this year but has been extended multiple times, shows nurses have a salary range of $56.75 to $95.41 per hour. PRN representatives have argued that other hospitals, including Stanford Hospital, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, Kaiser and the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, either have a higher pay range or recently inked deals with each of their respective nurses unions for a 12 percent wage increases over three years.

Platten said the PRN bargaining team was aiming for a 12 percent salary increase over three years, and had to compromise with 10 percent, which could have played a role in nurses ultimately rejecting the tentative agreement. Even though emotions can run high at ratification meetings, and it appears there may be some bad blood over the hospital cutting checks to exiting executives, Platten said the nurses are keeping it cool.

"I've been doing collective bargaining for 40 years, and the series of meetings I had with the nurses was by far the most civilized, intelligent conversation I've had in ratification meetings," he said.

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10 people like this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 8, 2016 at 9:45 am

hum - college educated professional pay, at $57 dollar an hour, 8 hour work day, 180 work days
I get through my calculator =$82,000 salary per year. How close are we to offering our public school beginning teaching professionals that amount of salary? (K-12 districts)

12% over 3 years - let me see (old handy calculator) that's [minus a general inflation factor of 5% over three years ] a real salary increase of 7% over three years. Or per year 2.3% increase in real purchasing power. (Compounded)

Oh BTW, $223,673 / $800,300 is a 28% on the year CEO bump. Like that little old calculator of mine.

25 people like this
Posted by Patient
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2016 at 7:53 pm

I think it's the nurses that make the hospital. Without them is like a bird without wings.

27 people like this
Posted by Xmansurfer
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 8, 2016 at 8:48 pm

Did you know that workplace injuries of nurses, most chronically lifetime limiting, have surpassed construction workers? Did you know nurses chronically work under staffed? Did you know that the hourly rate of most nurses is the median or lower as quoted? Did you know missed breaks and working overtime are the norm? (Refer to injury data) Did you know 2 incomes are the norm in terms of borderline affordability in living locally? Did you know nurses care.... for you.... and are your advocate ....when your most vulnerable?
Do your homework..... check it out.... and support those who care for and about you!!!
Thank you

5 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2016 at 10:33 pm

I feel the PRN and ECH nurses are greedy. They should not compare themselves to UCSH add that is according to the union nor part of the area and the cost of living in San Francisco is higher that the south Bay. 1% less on weekends and night differential while understandable to see why the nurses see this as a takeaway, is still the highest differential pay in all of the bay area. I feel that both the union and nurses are just flat out greedy.

12 people like this
Posted by ECH RN
a resident of another community
on Oct 10, 2016 at 9:51 am

The agreement took 1% away from the night shift pay but left the pm shift differential alone. In doing this, management hoped to get the majority of nurses (day shift & pm shift) to vote yes while leaving night shift to take a cut in both their shift differential and their weekend differential. Night shift is known to reduce the health and quality of life of workers. Depression, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer are significantly higher in night shift workers and our pay should compensate for the sacrifices we make.

17 people like this
Posted by SavingLives RN
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2016 at 10:19 am

In response to the "professor", you are obviously unaware of what a nurse does. Your calculator will not help you when you or a loved one has a stroke or heart attack. Nurses are on the front lines of healthcare. They save lives and take care of the community. I hope that you never have to find out first hand how amazing and hard working nurses are. But, if you ever find yourself in an emergency situation, the nurses will be the ones at your bedside saving your life.

6 people like this
Posted by SC Parent
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 10, 2016 at 2:59 pm

@Xmansurfer ("Did you know that the hourly rate of most nurses is the median or lower as quoted?")

Actually, the definition of "median" means that it is IMPOSSIBLE for the hourly rate of most nurses to be at the median or lower. Unless you're using the "half plus one" argument based on the assumption of the population size being an odd number. Even still, that hardly meets the common threshold for saying "most." You could accurately say that half of the nurses make less than the median hourly rate.

If "nurses have a salary range of $56.75 to $95.41 per hour," that means the lowest paid makes $56.75 per hour. If a nurse were to work 40 hours a week, that's about $118,000 per year at the lowest end of the range and about $198,000 at the highest end of the range (I assume for a supervisor). I presume night/weekend differentials and overtime premiums are added on top of those rates.

Don't let your emotions get in the way of accuracy. It's important for nurses to remain calm in all situations.

4 people like this
Posted by I_Got_mine
a resident of North Whisman
on Oct 10, 2016 at 7:04 pm

The majority of seniors will need health care, yet they will be paying more to stay in California or the SFBA. I know that other cities are planning for more assisted Living housing. That means more care will be needed by many new nurses and other professional care.
Nursing and patient support is a stressful job because hospitals have to bean count because of many ER related costs. I've seen good nurses and bad ones; they usually get jobs in nursing homes or assisted living..they know who they are.
I think that the Denver Metro Area might be worth checking out. Swedish is expanding their campus. Developers are upgrading to assisted living and senior housing. We US Citizens are not getting any younger.

7 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2016 at 12:07 pm

Be very afraid if ECH nurses strike! I have seen what happens first hand on units when they are short staffed, not to mention when travelers are used to fill in staffing holes. Every unit, though part of the greater hospital, has idiosyncrasies and specific duties that aren't learned in a training session. There are surgeons who want particular meds given prior to a surgery (and fail to put in the order). A seasoned ECH nurse "knows" to ask that MD if she/he wants the Med given. I'm talking about very important meds that prevent blood clots, infections or insulin to bring down a patient's blood sugar prior to surgery. Never underestimate how much your talented and accomplished ECH nurse has your back and will protect you from harm. Scabs and travelers don't know what they don't know. I'm staying far away from ECH if the nurses strike. I don't like Stanford, but that's where I'll go if I must, until ECH nurses are back on the job.
Fingers crossed our community hospital leaders can get a decent contract put together!

6 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of another community
on Oct 14, 2016 at 3:04 pm

"I've seen good nurses and bad ones; they usually get jobs in nursing homes or assisted living..they know who they are."

I'm reading "they" as the bad nurses. If so, I will respectfully disagree. Within my profession, which is medical but not nursing, I have worked with and observed a number of nurses who have moved from sub-acute settings to hospital settings. I have also seen the opposite. In the case of nurses moving from hospitals to sub-acute facilities, it was not due to their ability to perform their jobs, but rather a number of other factors. Those varied from new roles allowing a bit more flexibility in their schedules, to a movement into supervisory or management positions, to shorter commutes.

To suggest that nursing in sub-acutes is somehow substandard is, in my opinion, incorrect. I see patients in both hospitals and sub-acutes and I can say, generally speaking, the nursing is comparable. That is not to say there are not nurses who may be somewhat lacking, but those can be found everywhere. The vast majority of nurses I have worked with have been quite good.

4 people like this
Posted by MVNeighbor
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 14, 2016 at 3:24 pm

$800K can pay the salaries of 8 nurses-

People who actually do work- real work!!

Moral of the story here is this:

Pay the people that actual do work and reprimand those who BS through it.

4 people like this
Posted by Support
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2016 at 7:22 am

Anonymous: Nurses are greedy? Yes, that is how I would describe nurses and advocates. Every minute that they are doing CPR, getting coughed in the face, cleaning up poop and urine stepping in your vomit, walking into rooms that are highly infectious, taking time to explain your procedure, making sure your meds are on time and correct, charting, talking to family members, calling doctors, running to make sure you don't fall, getting you a warm blanket, making sure you are safely discharged, all while management asks for more charting and more tasks to take on: those nurses are thinking "money money money." You are mistaken. Nurses do not work this physically-challenging, soul-wrenching job for money- they work this job to make a positive difference in people's lives at their most vulnerable time. Their own family, sleep, social engagements all can be impacted by this job. California and ECH are the gold standards in which we want everyone else to follow because nurses DESERVE this much. They are not martyrs, they are not punching-bags. They are extremely skilled, educated and compassionate people that deserve respect. In rejecting their contract they are taking a stand and letting everyone know that they should be valued at the highest standard. Please don't speak about greed until you have walked in a nurses clogs.

3 people like this
Posted by PH
a resident of another community
on Oct 17, 2016 at 5:09 pm

I was a union worker for years and can say first hand that all the small things employers want to take away become very large over time. El Camino has great nurses and they deserve our support. Mountain View is out of control for home prices or rental prices and commuting is a nightmare. Most folks can't do anything to alleviate the financial burdens of the current economy and are facing really tough decisions as to how to make ends meet. I don't want to end up in a hospital where the nurses aren't happy, are under payed and overworked, not supported by their management and are really stressed about everything else outside of work. Their concentration needs to be solely on their patients, but it is tough with all the other stress life gives them. They are the best thing on earth when we need them and when we don't we should support them and understand how bad it would be without their competent and professional care.

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