A whopping 93% of nurses who are eligible to vote in the Committee for Recognition of Nursing Achievement (CRONA) union authorized their leaders to call a strike against Stanford and Lucile Packard Children's hospitals on Friday, the union announced.
The vote, which took place on Thursday, involved more than 5,000 nurses; more than 4,500 approved the strike authorization. Union representatives said they have been bargaining with the hospitals for the last 13 weeks through more than 30 bargaining sessions. The nurses have been working since April 1 without a contract.
The union's demands include wage increases, retention of medical benefits, the addition of stay-on bonuses, support for mental health and wellness, a new student-loan reimbursement program, greater staffing levels, expanded access to vacation time and live anti-bias training for managers.
The strike, if called, would be the third in the union's history and the first in two decades. CRONA would have to provide the hospitals with a 10-day notice of the planned strike, as required by law.
The union asserted that the situation has reached a potentially critical point: 45% of nurses surveyed by CRONA in November said they were considering leaving.
"Nurses' readiness to strike demonstrates the urgency of the great professional and personal crisis they are facing and the solutions they are demanding from hospital executives," the union said in its statement Friday.
"What message does it send when Stanford and Packard hospitals have hundreds of millions on hand from federal pandemic relief, and nurses are consistently taking on overtime and denying ourselves rest and recovery because the hospitals are not staffed adequately?" Colleen Borges, president of CRONA and a pediatric oncology nurse, said in the union's statement.
"We have been working extra shifts and powering through exhausting conditions because our patients and our colleagues need us. We need the hospitals' executives to show up for us," Borges stated.
The union stated that the number of Assignment Despite Objections (ADOs) filed by nurses, which document notifications when nurses do not have adequate resources, training or staff, rose significantly from 2020 to 2021.
Mark O'Neill, a nurse in a post-cardiothoracic surgical unit, accused the hospitals of telling exhausted nurses they have to work more hours.
"This is a confounding and illogical solution to our burnout, and it's no wonder so many of us are rethinking whether we have a future at Stanford and even the nursing profession," he said.
"Hospitals have not wanted to acknowledge how short-staffed we are,” Kathy Stormberg, CRONA vice president and a nurse at Stanford's radiology department, said in an interview with NPR. "They don't want to acknowledge that relying on travel nurses and staff nurses working overtime shifts isn't sustainable. People are worn out."
The nurses point to the recent death by suicide of a travel nurse working at Stanford, which CRONA said underscored the need for nurses to have improved access to time off and mental health support.
Stanford Health Care and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital said in a statement: "We believe that hard work at the negotiations table is a far better path than a strike to achieving new contracts for our nurses. We are committed, through good faith bargaining, to reach agreement on new contracts that provide nurses a highly competitive compensation package, along with proposals that further our commitment to enhancing staffing and wellness benefits for nurses.
"Now, as we take the necessary and precautionary steps to prepare for the possibility of a strike, we hope that CRONA chooses to instead focus its efforts on working with us toward contract agreements.
"Given the progress we have made by working constructively with the union, we should be able to reach agreements that will allow us to continue to attract and retain the high caliber of nurses who so meaningfully contribute to our hospitals' reputation for excellence," the hospitals stated.
The hospitals and CRONA met with a federal mediator on Monday, April 4, and again on Friday.