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.