University of California RNs Hail Shift Rotation Limits

Safe lifting policies are one bone of contention, but not the main one, in a 10-day strike by about 4,000 registered nurses at eight Sutter Health-affiliated medical facilities in the San Francisco Bay Area. The California Nurses Association said RNs will walk the picket line through March 30 to protest Sutter's refusal to schedule RNs to care for patients when nurses are on legally mandated meal or rest breaks. Sutter, however, said patient and nurse safety, wages, and benefits are not the real reason for this strike -- the third time in less than six months that CNA called a strike against Sutter facilities. The union's real reason is its desire to coerce systemwide union organizing language in Sutter Health affiliates' contracts, the health care chain claims.

Sutter operates acute care hospitals; medical research facilities; home health, hospice, and occupational health networks; and long-term care centers in more than 100 communities in Northern California. The strikes began after the two sides failed to reach agreement on a contract despite months of negotiations, according to press reports in the San Jose Mercury News.

Separately, the union announced March 24 that about 10,000 registered nurses at University of California medical centers around the state ratified a new contract that included a limit on mandatory shift rotation, which requires nurses to work a day shift and then rotate to a night shift. "Shift rotation has been shown to reduce RN alertness and increase medication errors," said James Darby, RN, UCSF. "The first-time-ever limits on mandatory shift rotation that we won ensure that patient needs are considered."

Nurses voted on the contract in membership meetings at UC facilities in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Davis, and Irvine and at student health centers in Riverside, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Berkeley, and Merced. The contract includes a 6 percent pay increase this year at all medical centers and increases up to 8 percent at the student health centers. "We are very happy with our new contract. It benefits UC nurses, UC patients, and UC," said Geri Jenkins, RN, UCSD, and a member of the CNA/National Nurses Organizing Committee Council of Presidents. "We have won the kind of patient care and staffing protections that will allow us to retain the high-caliber, experienced RNs needed to provide the quality care needed for our complex patient population."

This new contract does not include a wellness program opposed by the union both at UC and at Sutter Health. The program would require nurses to fill out an extensive questionnaire that could be shared with an insurance provider; this is a key issue in the Sutter Health strike, according to the union.

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