El Camino Hospital nurses vote to authorize a strike

Negotiations over three-year contract broke down earlier this year

El Camino Hospital's nurses union voted Tuesday to authorize a strike after negotiations with hospital leaders on a three-year contract broke down earlier this year.

More than 95% of the Professional Resource for Nurses (PRN) members voted in favor of a strike, with 83% of the nurses participating in the vote. Union leaders say they are ready to call for a strike "if deemed necessary," and were scheduled to meet Wednesday, July 17, with hospital officials to discuss the terms of the contract.

"El Camino Hospital RNs have demonstrated a collectively strong and united voice," PRN President Catharine Walke told the Voice in an email shortly after the vote.

Kathryn Fisk, chief human resources office for El Camino, said in a statement Wednesday that the vote was disappointing, but that hospital officials remain hopeful that a mutually acceptable agreement can be reached.

"El Camino Hospital and PRN share a commitment to provide exceptional and safe care, and we want to positively resolve these issues as we have been able to do in past contract discussions," Fisk said.

The strike vote signals a boiling point after months of stalled contract negotiations between El Camino and the union, which represents 1,269 nurses working at both the Mountain View and Los Gatos hospital campuses.

Nurses say the proposed contract's 3% annual salary increases fail to keep up with the high cost of living in the region, and accuse the hospital's leadership of unfair, continuous efforts to chip away at compensation rates for on-call nurses, per diem nurses and nurses working night shift. Compensation for long-time employees remains a thorny issue as well, with the pay increases for longevity essentially maxing out at 20 years.

Taken altogether, the cuts were too much to accept, union leaders said.

The mounting frustration prompted a picketing demonstration outside the hospital last month, followed by impassioned comments to El Camino Hospital's board of directors on June 12 urging the hospital to better support its nurses. Better pay notwithstanding, many nurses said they have had to deal with difficult staffing cuts and are expected to do more with less every year, all in the name of bringing down labor costs.

Nurses also point to the hospital's healthy financial performance as a sign that the cuts are unjustified. Budget reports last month showed El Camino Hospital and its affiliates are expected to turn a $142 million profit this fiscal year, about $25 million higher than anticipated. This is after a banner year in 2017-18, when the hospital made $197 million.

Though there were several sticking points in the contract, Fisk said PRN and the hospital have come to an agreement on "numerous" terms in the contract, and that the pay raise in the contract under negotiation offers retroactive pay raises beginning July 1, when the last contract expired. Bargaining teams have met 14 times since March, and the plan is to facilitate meetings in early August with a "neutral fact-finder," she said.

Though no strike has been called yet, Fisk said the hospital has a contingency plan ready so that care is not interrupted and remains at the "high caliber of care our patients expect and deserve."

"We hope this step is not necessary, but it is important that our patients and our community know we are prepared to deliver the highest quality of care for them," she said.

This story was updated with comments from El Camino Hospital.

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3 people like this
Posted by Not the old ECH
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2019 at 1:23 pm

It has sadly become the hospital many avoid if at all possible.

9 people like this
Posted by Sad nurse
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Jul 17, 2019 at 2:31 pm

Again, as an ECH nurse, I am confused at the hospital wanting to “take away” anything in our contract. Just give us a cost of living raise like you surely gave yourself; don’t take away anything and let us get back to work feeling supported and valued. Is that asking too much?

5 people like this
Posted by SHC
a resident of another community
on Jul 17, 2019 at 2:36 pm

ECH nurses take note - Stanford Health Care is hiring for their new hospital.

9 people like this
Posted by ECH Nurse
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2019 at 3:14 pm

I'm so proud to be one of 1000 co-workers who voted to authorize a strike. Shame on the executives running El Camino Hospital, including Cheryl Reinking, herself a nurse, who is throwing her fellow nurses under the bus. ECH collects tax dollars from the people of Mountain View, and despite staggering profits this year, refuses to reward the blood, sweat, and tears of the nurses who sacrifice of themselves day in and day out to care for their patients.

I'm not really sure what the end game of the hospital is here, demoralizing and demeaning their staff, and sending them the strong message that they are not important to mission of this hospital. I'm hoping a strike can be avoided, for the sake of our patients and staff, but at this point, the ball is in their court.

8 people like this
Posted by Wish
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2019 at 4:58 pm

I love where I work. El Camino has been a really great place to work with the highest of standards expected of all Nurses. We are expected to be professional above all else. I expect that we get our yearly raise and no takeaways. If you take from us, it takes more than money. You are taking what respect we have of our institution and that does not translate to patients and families in a positive manner. Do the right thing and respect us. Thank you.

8 people like this
Posted by F.A.
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Jul 17, 2019 at 6:40 pm

Shame on you El Camino administrators! Your nurses are the backbone of your organization. The very reason that you have earned Magnet status and profited over $140 million last year. While you give yourselves huge bonuses and annual pay raises, you attempt to reduce pay and benefits from the nurses. Keep in mind that the country has voted nurses as the most respected profession for the last several years. The community supports nurses! Nurses take care of their community. Absolutely disappointing and shameful behavior.

8 people like this
Posted by Answer this 4 me
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 17, 2019 at 9:37 pm

Could someone post what the nurses make at the other bay area hospitals as a comparison for us to have a more informed opinion.

I do not know why this was left out of the story, but a recent conversation I had with a nurse who works at Stanford said she takes home $135,000 a year.

4 people like this
Posted by District resident
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Jul 17, 2019 at 10:16 pm

The public should complain to the El Camino Hospital District board.

Oh wait. The hospital is controlled by the hospital board, not by the district board. The district board just exists to funnel tax money to the hospital without providing oversight.

1 person likes this
Posted by Past ECH RN
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jul 18, 2019 at 6:06 pm

ECH Administrators: avoid a strike and don’t continue down the path you’re currently on. A strike will cost much more than just the money you will have to pay (in a very big way) to get travelers to cover the patient care, while ECH RNs wait out a decent contract. It will cost patient’s their safety. This is not hyperbole. I’ve seen too many travelers on units at ECH where they don’t know the units they are assigned to, they don’t get the training they should have, they don’t know the systems that are in place at ECH and last but not least, they don’t have the relationships with the ECH doctors. Imagine a traveler trying to figure out which hospitality to call at 2 AM, while a patient is decompensating,..looking online for the link that indicates who is “on call”. Believe me, that document was hard enough to find as a longtime ECH RN. There will be no one for the traveler to rely on and staffing will be skimpy. If this strike does happen, ECH will lose money, lose patients and lose the trust of the RNs (which has mostly happened by now). I personally would avoid ECH completely during a strike; I’ve seen the work done by travelers who don’t get the training or support they need and at times the care is downright shoddy. Try explaining all of this when you’re taken to court because of negligence or malpractice. No bonus for you that year, I suppose!

8 people like this
Posted by Community Supporter
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Jul 19, 2019 at 2:53 pm

Proposing a less than cost of living raise, especially for this area, is an insult. As nurses who hold our lives in your hands you deserve much, much better. Shame on administrators for even considering this crumb offering. The community is watching!

Like this comment
Posted by Member
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 23, 2019 at 4:39 pm

I work at El Camino Hospital as a nurse and I am proud of my profession and people I work with. Every day we take care of the sick and provide excellent care that results in highest care and praise by the patients and families giving daily recognition to the ones that nurture them. I find it so hurtful and beyond any logical explanation why a nonprofit hospital generating multimillion annual profit be so ignorant and arrogant towards the ones who make this hospital a “Magnet” status. It is an insult to know that the top management awards themselves with hefty annual bonuses and raises yet continuously cuts nurses benefits and basic requirements in benefits for their hard working contribution. I would be ashamed if I was a CEO to treat the ones that make this organization what it is and continue this unnecessary unfair behavior in their contact negotiations. I hope that the executive management will find it in their hearts to Hear and Listen to what the nurses are trying to say. Give us Respect and Recognition that we Deserve. We work hard, we genuinely care. Patients and families Recognize and acknowledge us. Why don’t you? Magnet status hospital Is a hospital where everyone is happy and thriving- the patients and the employees of all ranks.

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