.Santa Clara Nurses Demand Better Working Conditions

The union representing 3,750 Santa Clara nurses in the county health system is increasing pressure on county negotiators, voting to authorize a strike at Valley Medical Center, the region’s largest hospital.

In a statement, the Registered Nurses Professional Association said 97% of its members—whose contract expired Oct. 29—voted to authorize a strike if no agreement is reached on union demands for better working conditions, pay raises and improved benefits.

The county, the union says, is bargaining “in bad faith.”

A failure by the county to address those issues and others led to county nurses authorizing a strike, if necessary, in the coming weeks.

At a rally last week, union leaders said problems caused by poor staffing decisions and poor management continue to plague the county’s healthcare system since the integration of St. Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy and O’Connor Hospital in San Jose into the system five years ago.

The nurses union said issues of short staffing and below-standard nurse-to-patient ratios have been discussed in the months of negotiations.

The union said there have been “dramatic increases” in workplace violence, “along with troubling rates of nurses dealing with mental health concerns, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Patient care and safety is our top priority,” the county said in a statement Monday. “The safety and well-being of our nurses, and our entire workforce, is essential for the county Health System to deliver high quality and safe care to our patients. The county will continue to work towards a fair and competitive contract that will allow us to maintain essential health care services for our community.”

“The County of Santa Clara has been bargaining in good faith with the RNPA since Aug.17, 2023,” the county said in a statement.

“The county continues to provide competitive wages and benefits to RNPA-represented nurses, including when compared with wages and benefits provided by both public and private hospitals throughout the Bay Area,” the county said in a statement. 

Since 2020, the county said it has provided nearly 30% in total compounded wage increases for clinical nurses and assistant nurse managers, and nearly 42% in total compounded wage increases for per diem clinical nurses.

The county said a recent salary survey showed that the county’s clinical nurse III compensation ranks second highest out of the regional hospitals surveyed.

The staffing issues, along with pay and benefit packages that nurses say are out of step with the local job market, make it difficult for Santa Clara County to recruit and retain nurses, according to the union. The nurses union said the county has:

  • Failed to make investments in basic resources to keep nurses, other health care professionals, and patients safe;
  • Ignored unsafe staffing ratios, which lead to dangerous conditions for patients and nurses;
  • Not followed through on its agreement to enforce staffing standards;
  • Refused to offer pay and benefit improvements that close the wide gap in compensation between county nurses and nurses at local private hospitals or in neighboring counties, despite recently giving big salary increases to county leaders.

The union also said that county proposals to schedule nurses at different hospitals across the county can add hours of commute time each week and place nurses in unfamiliar environments.

barry holtzclaw, managing editor sanjoseinside
Barry Holtzclawhttp://sanjoseinside.com/
Three decades of journalism experience, as a writer and editor with Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Lee newspapers, as a business journal editor and publisher and as a weekly newspaper editor in Scotts Valley and Gilroy; with Weeklys Publishing since 2017. Recipient of several first-place writing and editing awards, California News Publishers Association.

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