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Nurses, hospital settle dispute

Posted: April 30, 2009 10:34 p.m.
Updated: May 1, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Registered nurses and Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital officials have settled on a contract agreement after weeks of talks, the California Nurses Association announced Thursday.

"We are very pleased with this contract, which will benefit both nurses and patients," said Susan Salkeld, a Newhall Memorial RN and member of the association's bargaining team. "The strong patient care protections, in addition to the salary improvements, will greatly enhance our ability to recruit and retain experienced nurses to our medical center."

The contract agreement comes after the nurses voted in early March to authorize their nurse negotiating team to strike, if necessary, in response to a merit-based pay proposal, which hospital officials were suggesting for nurses who received high marks on their annual evaluations.

The hospital proposed an hourly differential of from 50 cents to $1 paid to nurses who receive high ratings on their reviews.
The nurses said the merit-based pay would affect their ability to deliver safe patient care and limit them from speaking up on behalf of their patients.

However, according to a hospital official, the merit pay remains part of the contract.

A comprehensive wage and benefit package was accepted that included base salary increases and the evaluation differentials, Mark Puleo, the hospital's chief human resources officer, said in an e-mailed statement.

"Although the union initially rejected our proposal, we continued to discuss it with them and eventually we believe the union realized how committed the hospital was to the evaluation differentials and how valuable they were to our nurses, our patients and our community," Puleo said. "We ultimately agreed on a very similar program to the one originally proposed, with some very minor alterations, all of which the hospital had informally already said it would agree to."

Registered nurses at the hospital unanimously approved the contract settlement. The settlement provides "strong improvements in patient advocacy protections," according to the released information from the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee.

Language in the contract protects nurses from being negatively evaluated because they speak up on behalf of their patients, lead labor representative Karleen A. George said.

"There's an internal process by which a nurse can challenge if they believe the contract is being violated," she said.

George said the hospital's initial proposal silenced nurses in their role as patient advocates, but the language in the contract can now allow for action if the nurses are negatively rated on their evaluations for speaking out on behalf of patients.

The contract also includes wage increases, the information said.

The contract for the nearly 350 RNs who work at Newhall Memorial includes a cumulative base-pay increase of 16 percent over a three-year contract for all registered nurses. It also includes an agreement on technology that will protect the nurses' role in making independent clinical judgments on behalf of their patients, a new peer-review process allowing nurses to challenge unfair evaluations, an increase in paid time for education leave and compensation for nurses who seek additional specialty training and certification.

"If any technology is introduced in the hospital that undermines (the nurses') role to make an independent clinical assessment, the hospital can't implement it," George said.

If a nurse feels she has been negatively evaluated, "she has the ability go through a process that includes a peer review process" in order to challenge that evaluation, George said.

With the language included in the contract, George said the union negotiators eliminated its potential to silence the nurses.


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