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Nurses in the Nethercutt Emergency Center at the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital follow up on patients on Monday afternoon. The nurses are casting votes for a new labor pact that includes an 11 percent pay raise and gauranteed lunch breaks.

(photo by Brandon Wise)

MID-CITY — Nurses at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center cast votes Monday for a tentative labor agreement with the University of California system that includes an 11 percent pay increase over the next two years.

The more than 11,000 UC registered nurses who are represented by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United must ratify the proposed pact in membership meetings that began Sunday at UCLA and continue through Thursday. The contract affects five major UC hospitals, as well as student health centers at other UC campuses.

“We, the senior nurses at Santa Monica, never forget the times that we didn’t have a union and were without representation,” said Ann Brown, a UCLA RN and nurse negotiator.

“After our first CNA-negotiated contract we gained an average of 20 percent in our pay but more importantly, we are enjoying rights denied to us in a non-unionized workplace,” said Brown. “Every contract negotiation has brought us further improvement in our working condition and this one is no exception.”

Key highlights of the pact include guaranteed meal and rest breaks during shifts, more influence over patient safety and a new pay grade for senior nurses, representatives from the union said.

Nurse negotiators were also successful in limiting future increases in costs for their health coverage.

Dianne Klein, a spokesperson for the UC system, would not comment on the details of the proposed contract, but did say the deal is “fair.”

“It maintains competitive wages and benefits for the nurses, recognizing the critical role they play in serving patients and the tough financial situation the university is in,” she said.

Union representatives said the UC health system is one of the wealthiest in the state and that the raise nurses will receive will not put stress on funding for education since it will be paid for by patients and their insurance companies.

The UC system has already approved an 8 percent tuition hike for the coming school year and there could be another 32 percent increase if Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax plan collapses.

If approved, the pact would be the first multi-year contract for nurses since 2002. Disputes and short-term fixes have prompted almost continuous collective bargaining for almost a decade. If ratified by nurses this week, the new contract will start Friday and extend through June 30, 2013.

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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