MID-CITY — Officials at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital said Tuesday they are prepared to hire replacement nurses to cover for those who planned to walk off the job Thursday to draw attention to stalled contract negotiations.
A judge on Tuesday afternoon barred the roughly 10,800 nurses at University of California medical centers from participating in the one-day strike for at least two weeks. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter Busch scheduled a June 18 hearing to consider the matter further.
Nurse union officials said they may file an appeal today and could go forward with the strike. They were expected to meet Tuesday night to weigh their options
“Our No. 1 priority remains correcting the chronic staffing issues at University of California medical centers, which we have been unable to resolve through any other means,” said Beth Kean, chief negotiator for California Nurses Association UC Division. “It is unfortunate that the UC has chosen to spend its resources on high-priced lawyers to attack nurses’ democratic right to strike, rather than on addressing the patient care crisis in its hospitals. But nurses will not be silenced.”
Union officials said UC hospitals staff nurses according to a formula and do not take into account the condition of patients, some of whom are suffering from multiple injuries and need more attention from nurses who are overworked.
“Everyone feels uncomfortable about [walking out on patients], but we feel we are not being heard,” said Alexandra Leigon, a nurse in the Intensive Care Unit at Santa Monica-UCLA. “Our job is to provide our patients with the best care possible, but I can’t do that if I’m tired.”
The judge agreed with UC officials that a nurses’ strike at its five medical centers in California poses a health risk to patients, but he said he was open to allowing the strike after hearing more legal arguments and considering the issue further.
The California nurses have a no-strike clause in their labor contract, which expires Sept. 30. The issue is whether that clause was suspended when the nurses and management reopened contract negotiations last year to discuss salaries and staffing levels.
The nurses contend that the negotiations remain open and the strike clause suspended, while management argues that contract discussions ended in December and the contract went back into effect.
Officials with Santa Monica-UCLA said patient care and safety at the hospital is their chief priority and they are prepared to hire replacement nurses, bringing in some from as far as the East Coast at considerable expense.
Officials with the hospital said they could not give the numbers or cost of hiring the nurses.
In a statement issued Tuesday, officials with Santa Monica-UCLA said: “This ruling is a victory for our dedicated nurses, most importantly, a victory for our patients. We are pleased that this attempt by CNA union leadership to leverage public health as a negotiations tactic has been stopped. Union leadership would do better to concentrate on reaching the equitable contract that our nurses so well deserve and that will best protect patients under our care.
“We value our nurses and pay competitive market-rate wages — a fact reflected in our current contract with CNA. Under terms of the 2009 contract, eligible registered nurses will receive a 2 percent step increase this July, as well as an additional 2 percent across-the-board salary increase in September. This is in an environment where most professionals are not getting increases at all.”
It is estimated that the UC system will spend anywhere from $10 million to $15 million hiring and training replacement staff in preparation for the strike, with about $5 million just for Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center.
It is not clear who ultimately will pay the tab for the strike.
CNA threatened to strike in 2005, but was blocked from walking out by a court order on the grounds of public health and safety. The Public Employee Relations Board recently ruled that CNA’s 2005 strike threat constituted an unfair practice and ordered a hearing to determine the extent of the union’s financial liability to UC for the costs it incurred in preparing for that strike.
Hospital officials were planning to cancel or postpone some surgeries and procedures in anticipation of a strike, and were planning to divert patients and ambulances.