By : A Stanford ICU Nurse
It is NOT about the money. The recent contract negotiations between Stanford Hospital and Clinics, Lucille Packard Children's Hospital and CRONA (the Union representing the nurses at both of these hospital) have been incredibly stressful and disheartening.
The hospitals have released statements to the public emphasizing the $3000 bonus they will offer prorated for each nurse and a 4% raise across the board. Of course, if these were the only issues one would have to ask why don't the nurses want to accept the contract? On Wednesday April the 6th 2300 nurses voted on the hospitals' "Last, best and Final offer" with a 90% rejection. There must be more to this than meets the eye. After all in these economic times shouldn't these nurses be glad to have a job at all?
There are essentially three critical issues in this contract that the nurses are passionate about. The new "Professional Nurse Development Program", the inability for the union to represent us in matters of promotion and discipline and perhaps most importantly the cutting of our health insurance.
In every profession there are experts. These are people whom we work with that have been doing this job longer than some of us have been alive. They have seen it all and can deal with it all. Nursing is no exception. Colleagues with this level of expertise surround me. These are nurses who I respect tremendously and aspire to be like. They are the very fiber of our institutions. In this new "Professional Nurse Development Program" these nurses are going to be demoted to a level that does not recognize the level of expertise or the years of experience that they bring to the bedside. The hospitals claim they are not demoting anyone; not today they aren't. But in three years if these expert nurses are unable to qualify under the new system, demoted is exactly what they will be. It will be very difficult to get promoted under the new system, which is exactly what the hospitals want. When the hospitals don't have to pay expert nurses the wage that expert nurses deserve they will save approximately 15-20 Million dollars a year. Essentially these expert nurses will be lumped together under the same title as a novice, a nurse with six months of experience. It doesn't sound like much of a professional development program to me.
Under this new proposed contract our union and lawyers will have little to no ability to advocate for us when we are unfairly denied promotion, demoted or disciplined. If you have ever been disciplined or counseled in the workplace you know, it can happen to any of us. No matter how experienced or professional we are, none of us are perfect. We are fighting to protect our rights. Innocent until proven guilty is the way it supposed to work isn't it?
Lastly and perhaps most importantly are the changes to our health care. We have great benefits when we are healthy. Under the new proposed contract we will have 12 weeks of health care insurance if we are unable to work because of long-term illness or disability. Twelve weeks! No health care coverage for the caregivers. After that time nurses will be required to pay COBRA rates or find insurance elsewhere. COBRA rates for a single person start at $800/ month and for a family begin at $1850/month. That's a lot of money for someone who isn't working. Interestingly enough, these 12 weeks of coverage is only provided once in a 12-month period. For example, if I want to have a baby and take a 12-week leave from work I will have health insurance. BUT -- if I get in a car accident later that year I have already used up my 12 weeks and there is no more insurance for me. That is why the nurses do not want to accept this proposed contract. Under our current contract we have 6 months to fight cancer or recover from a trauma before we have to find our own insurance. We want to keep what we currently have.
I cannot speak for everyone but I know that I speak for many nurses at Stanford and Packard when I say that entering this negotiation period we were not asking for bonuses. This $3000 bonus the hospital is advertising is somewhat misleading. That would be $3000 for a nurse that works 40 hours/week. Many of us work 36 hours/wk or less. After taxes, that bonus is approximately $1800 paid out over 3 years is about $25 dollars per paycheck. Not much of an incentive to sacrifice health care coverage is it? Also, Stanford is not a hospital that offers bonuses to its nurses as a general rule. In the past they haven't needed to. So one should ask, why now? The answer is simple. They want to make it about money. It's much cheaper for them to offer us a bonus and a raise than it is to reward our expertise and experience or to take care of us when we are sick.
Nurses are people who care for people. We care for you and your loved ones. We became nurses because we want to help you when you are going through a difficult time in your life and you need our help. Now we need your support. This is not about money, not for the nurses anyway. We are glad to be employed when so many are out of work. That is not a reason to allow our institutions to take advantage of us. We don't want a bonus; we don't even need a raise. We just want health care, union representation and a fair professional development program that recognizes the expertise of our experts.
In conclusion, the institutions are making changes to our current contract that are demoralizing and discouraging and ultimately may compromise patient care and the reputation of Stanford Hospital and University. The hospitals are going to save money by not recognizing the expertise and experience of the nurses currently employed there. They can get away with it because a patient doesn't know what quality of nurses he/she is getting. The patient just knows there are nurses...and may think they've all been trained the same and are interchangeable. Ultimately if the hospitals proposal is not amended, many of the best and most qualified nurses will leave and go to hospitals that treat their nurses well. Others will retire in the next few years. The hospitals would like this; then they can replace us with inexperienced nurses to save a buck -- ultimately compromising the quality of care you receive when you are a patient at Stanford and compromising the reputation of the institution.