A bitter contract dispute between Stanford and Packard hospitals and their nurses' union has reached a stalemate, with the union accusing the hospitals of "a declaration of war" after the hospitals declared an official impasse and implemented a contract the nurses rejected in March 2010.
Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and the union, the Committee for Recognition of Nursing Achievement (CRONA), have had dozens of negotiations to try to iron out sticking points in the contract, which affects 2,700 nurses and expired March 31, 2010.
The hospitals made a "last, best and final" offer that was rejected by the union last spring. The hospitals then pulled out of negotiations. A federal mediator brought the two sides back together late last year, with both sides announcing a tentative contract in December. Nurses voted to reject the contract on Dec. 13, 2010, by 54 percent to 46 percent.
Stanford and Packard's joint Feb. 7 announcement would implement select provisions from the March 31 contract offer. Hospitals spokeswoman Sarah Staley said once an impasse is declared, the hospital can choose which provisions it will implement.
The hospitals will give nurses a 4 percent pay increase but will not make it retroactive to March 31, as was previously offered in the tentative agreement. A $3,000 bonus was to be given to nurses if a 10-day notice of intent to strike was not issued. The hospitals have withdrawn that offer, although the nurses have not issued a strike notice.
A key point of contention in the negotiations, the Professional Nurse Development Plan (PNDP), which was arguably the deal breaker in the tentative-contract vote, will be immediately implemented by the hospitals. That has outraged union leaders.
"We are very disappointed, but not surprised, that the hospitals have chosen to treat the nurses, once again, with disrespect and vindictiveness," CRONA President Lorie Johnson stated in a letter to the nurses.
"Everyone should understand that this is a declaration of war by the hospitals against CRONA and the nurses, and a blatant attempt to try and force us to accept a bad contract. The hospitals need to understand that such behavior on their part will simply worsen relations and not be to their benefit.
"As in the past, we urge all nurses to stand in unity and not allow the arrogance of a big business such as SHC and LPCH divide us," Johnson wrote.
Staley said the provisions being chosen are part of the December tentative agreement.
"It' very important to note that. These were what we agreed to. It is our sincere hope that everyone would continue to focus on excellent patient care and move forward," she said.
Greg Souza, vice president of human resources for Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, said the hospitals are disappointed that after more than a year of contract negotiations "it will not be possible to reach mutually acceptable contract settlements at this time.
"We feel strongly that our offers advance nursing practice and programs and provide our patients with the very best in patient care," he said.
The hospitals requested continued negotiations in a Dec. 23 letter to CRONA. The union attempted to get the hospitals to agree to some changes it felt would get the nurses to ratify on a second vote, but so far, the hospitals have not agreed, according to correspondence between union and hospital attorneys.
The PNDP continues to be the major sticking point, attorney Peter Nussbaum stated in a Feb. 3 letter to hospital attorneys. Under the hospitals' final proposal, Staff Nurse IIIs and IVs could effectively be demoted if they can't qualify under revised staffing qualifications.
Upper-tier clinical nurses can also be demoted and become ineligible to reapply for higher clinical-nurse positions for a substantial period of time because of a single warning for even the most minor alleged infractions. That could lead to potential abuses by managers who are vindictive or play favorites and would cause draconian cuts in the nurse's wages, Nussbaum said.
"Nurses with many years of experience ... who have unquestioned excellent bedside skills will be unfairly punished if the PNDP as proposed were to be implemented," he said.
Johnson stated in a letter to the nurses that the union had made the best effort it could during difficult contract negotiations.
"The tentative agreement that the negotiating team decided to present for a vote posed a difficult choice for our members," she wrote.
"As we explained at the 12 meetings we held, the proposed contract was the best we felt we could get from the hospitals. Accepting it would produce sweeping changes in our working conditions, while rejecting it might lead to the same or a worse result.
"It was for that reason that, as in 2000, CRONA did not make a recommendation and left it up to each of you to vote your conscience.
"The months ahead are uncertain. We have communicated with the hospitals and are awaiting their reply. The CRONA executive board, negotiation committee and team, all of whom are bedside nurses like you, will work even harder in the coming year to reach an agreement that is satisfactory to all parties concerned," Johnson wrote.