A contract dispute between Stanford Hospitals & Clinics and the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and the roughly 2700 unionized nurses who work at the two hospitals is intensifying, with the nurses operating under a contract that expired on March 31 and the last day of negotiations quickly approaching.
"Stanford and Lucile Packard Hospitals are making record profits and rewarding top administrators with incredible wage increases," said Lorie Johnson, president of the Committee for Recognition of Nursing Achievement (CRONA), which is representing the nurses. "Yet, they have offered our nurses contract terms that are frankly insulting to our members and are disrespectful given the care and service we provide to the patients who come to these hospitals." Johnson has also been a nurse for over 30 years, working at Stanford Hospital since 1989.
The years-long labor dispute has been characterized by potential strikes, bargaining, counter offers, stalemates and much tension. Negotiations for the most recent contract started in January of this year. The hospitals have offered the nurses a wage increase of 1.5 percent, up from the initial offer of 1 percent, which Johnson called "meager."
The hospitals responded by saying that salaries and wages for employees are "competitive and relative to our market."
"We regularly conduct regular analyses to ensure compensation levels for our nurses and our executives are appropriate to attract and retain the best people," James Larkin, director of Corporate Communications & Public Relations for Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Robert Dicks, senior director of Media Relations for the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, wrote in an email.
Larkin and Dicks stated that the hospitals' "financial health" has allowed the expansion and improvement of the hospitals and the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars into programs designed to benefit the community, including investments to help infants, children, adolescents, pregnant women and vulnerable populations.
They stated that the deal offered to nurses at the end of March was equitable. The three-year contract would have included a 7 percent wage increase for clinical nurses paid out as 2.5 percent increases for the first and second year of the agreement plus 2 percent in the third year; and 4 percent wage increases for the staff nurses, paid out as 1.5 percent increases for the first and second years of the agreement, and 1 percent in the third year, according to a hospital website tracking the issue.
Aside from concerns over wage increases, the nurses are focused on two particular issues: a controversial advancement system and an attendance policy that "disciplines" nurses for missing work because of illness and makes it difficult to get paid time off.
"The Hospitals so far have refused to consider changing this terrible attendance policy that forces Nurses to work sick or face discipline for missing work because they are sick," Johnson said in a press release. "And even more outrageous is the fact that this attendance policy does not apply to administrators and managers -- only Nurses and hourly employees!"
Larkin and Dicks wrote that the attendance policy is "fair and equitable for all employees."
The two hospitals initially offered the majority of nurses a 1 percent wage increase and denied the nurses' request to reduce rising medical insurance costs, according to a press release from the nurses' union.
Larkin and Dicks wrote that they "believe our proposals provide valuable recognition for our nurses and their exceptional work."
After the nurses' existing contract expired at the end of last month, CRONA agreed to continue negotiations by bringing in a federal mediator for an additional month. The last day at the bargaining table will be April 30. The hospitals told the nurses that they will not present their final counter offer until the day before, according to the press release.
"This is another slight to the Nurses by the Hospitals," Johnson said. "If they really wanted to reach a mutually agreeable contract, they would have offered a complete counter proposal far sooner in the mediation process so that we could respond to it and educate our members about the ramifications of the whole contract."