Sharp Healthcare nurse strike averted

Posted at 5:06 AM, Nov 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-28 08:07:36-05

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A planned three-day strike of more than 3,000 nurses at three Sharp Healthcare hospitals set to begin this morning has been called off by the nurses' union, perhaps only for a while, a union spokesman said today.

"(The strike) has been averted, at least for now," said Jeff Rogers, communications specialist for the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals union. "We're going back to the bargaining table on Tuesday.

"There has been significant movement on some of the important issues," Rogers said. "But there's more to be done about the major issue, which is the recruitment and retention of well-trained and experienced nurses."

Picket lines were scheduled to go up at 7 a.m. today, Tuesday and Wednesday at Sharp Memorial and Mary Birch hospitals in Kearny Mesa, Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center and Grossmont Hospital. The nurses were slated to return to work Thursday morning.

The nurses and their union leaders allege that Sharp pays comparatively low wages, creating high turnover when employees leave for better pay at other hospitals. Sharp, however, contends that the nurses have inflated the turnover claims.

Last month, 98 percent of nurses who cast ballots rejected Sharp's final contract offer, which included a base pay hike of 16 to 26 percent over a three-year period, with almost half implemented in the first year. The vote authorized their union to call the strike.

Sharp executives said they had contracted with a firm to provide trained nurses during the walkout.

Christina Magnusen, president of the Sharp Professional Nurses Network, said Sharp is on track to lose 700 nurses this year, up from 605 last year and 514 in 2014.

Sharp registered nurses with five years of experience can move to competitors such as UC San Diego Health or Kaiser Permanente with hourly wages ranging from $8 to $16 higher, according to the union.

Dan Gross, executive vice president of Sharp Healthcare, said the union has pushed for "unrealistic" salary levels and a requirement that all nurses had to pay union dues.

According to Sharp, a report from the California Hospital Association found the chain's 2015 nurse full- and part-time nursing turnover rate was 8.4 percent, the lowest in San Diego County -- and that this year's numbers were about the same.

The difference stems from the union counting per-diem nurses, who always have a high turnover rate, Gross said. Per-diem nurses are not tracked in the CHA figures.