Nurses for Stanford and Lucile Packard Children's hospitals voted overwhelmingly in favor of a possible strike on Thursday (Feb. 17) night.
About 77 percent of the union's entire 2,700 membership voted "yes" to authorize the Committee for Recognition of Nursing Achievement (CRONA) leadership to call for a strike if it deems necessary, the union announced to its membership Friday afternoon.
Eighty-nine percent of the nurses who cast ballots voted in favor of the strike, the union noted. Nurses who did not authorize a proxy to vote on their behalf had their votes registered as "no" votes, in accordance with the union's by-laws.
Union president Lorie Johnson said there was a large turnout despite the bad weather.
Stanford Medical Center and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital have been embroiled in a nearly year-long disagreement over terms of the nurses' contract. Their contract expired March 31, 2010.
A key point of contention in the negotiations, the professional nurse-development plan, was cited as a deal breaker in the past. It was implemented by the hospitals on Feb. 7 after the nurses rejected a tentative agreement that had been worked out with the help of a federal mediator.
After both sides agreed that they had reached an impasse, the hospitals went ahead with pay increases and other benefits that are in the tentative contract package, even though nurses had voted the package down.
"This is a very powerful statement by a super majority of nurses at the two hospitals," Johnson said, adding that the vote communicates that nurses are "utterly dissatisfied" with the final offer.
"Our first concern is always the care of our patients and therefore the last thing we want to do is strike. We hope that the hospitals will now listen to our concerns so that a strike will not have to be called. The ball is in their court," said Johnson, a 20-year cardiovascular intensive-care nurse.
The vote does not mean there will be an imminent strike. Union leaders can choose to give a 10-day strike notice to the hospitals.
"We're disappointed. … A work stoppage benefits no one," hospitals spokeswoman Sarah Staley said.
The hospitals have contingency plans in place in the event of a strike and patient care remains the hospitals' "No. 1 priority," she said.
"While authorization for a strike has been given, the hospitals' doors have been and remain open to further negotiations, if CRONA has a new proposal for us to consider," she said.
During a nurses' strike in June 2000, the same two top issues were sticking points: advancement policies for nurses and paid time off/health benefits. That strike lasted seven weeks and required a federal mediator to help broker a deal. Nurses also went on strike in 1974.