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Nurses threaten strike

Hospital offers largest base-pay increase ever; RNs say merit pay jeopardizes patient care

Posted: March 7, 2009 12:54 a.m.
Updated: March 7, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Registered nurses at the Santa Clarita Valley’s only hospital have authorized their negotiating team to call a strike if necessary, a member of the bargaining team said Friday.

“We want to settle our contract, but we will not sign an agreement that undermines our ability to speak freely for and in the best interest of our patients,” said Susan Salkeld, a Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital nurse and a member of the RN bargaining team.

“We would view it as an extreme reaction if a strike were to be called,” a hospital official said, “because the hospital wants to pay its nurses more.”

The dispute is over merit pay, but it’s the hospital that wants to offer merit pay and the nurses who object to it.

The hospital proposed an hourly differential of 50 cents or $1 paid to nurses who receive high ratings on their annual performance reviews.

But nurses say the proposal would reward nurses for “not challenging management cutbacks on patient safety.”

“Nurses will essentially be offered a bonus if they do not challenge bean-counting measures that cut back on patient safety,” said nurse Robbie Bailey. “This is wrong. It is wrong for Henry Mayo to keep this proposal on the table.”

The vote to authorize negotiators to call a strike, held Thursday night, passed on a 2-1 vote, according to a news release from the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, which is negotiating on behalf of Newhall Memorial registered nurses.

Hospital officials contend the differential is an important way to appreciate exceptional work and a way of rewarding those nurses who perpetuate the values of the hospital.

“Most nurses understand that the hospital’s offer not only exceeds the union’s proposal, but contains the largest increase in base compensation ever, plus added compensation for the more than 60 percent of Henry Mayo nurses who perform at exceptional levels,” said Mark Puleo, hospital chief human resources officer. “In this economy, we honestly cannot understand why the union is denying our nurses these raises.”

“We believe our nurses, our patients and our community are strengthened by rewarding those nurses who perform at exceptional levels and demonstrate a commitment to our core values of integrity, trust and respect, accountability, teamwork, clinical competence and quality, and compassionate care,” he said in an e-mail Friday.

Puleo said the hospital had not been fully informed of the results of the vote. They received several complaints from union members regarding the voting procedure, he said.

Whatever the results, Puleo said the hospital stands by its position to provide rewards.

The proposal would be part of a contract for the nearly 350 RNs who work at Newhall Memorial, according to the committee. The contract expired Jan. 21 but has been extended on a day-to-day basis, the committee said.


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