Nurses at Santa Clara County hospitals voted to approve a new contract, and the county Board of Supervisors approved the deal earlier this week for a 17 percent in wage increase spread out over the next four years.
The Registered Nurses Professional Association (RNPA), which represents more than 3,000 nurses in the county’s three-hospital Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System, announced Tuesday that 88 percent of members had voted to support the contract, ending any threat of a strike that the nurses had authorized if talks failed.
Valley Medical Center nurse and RNPA President Debbie Chang applauded the deal for offering “competitive wages, hours and safer working conditions and staffing ratios that nurses fought for months to win.” She said the agreement will help close the gap in pay and working conditions between county health facilities and local private hospitals.
“By standing together we reminded county leaders the critical role nurses play in the health of our communities,” said Chang, who added that nurses “look forward to building a new partnership with the county and delivering the highest quality care to our patients in a safe and dignified workplace.”
The new contract provides 3 percent wage increases per year for four years, plus a 4 percent across-the-board “realignment” increase the first year, and an additional 1 percent increase the second year. The new contract also increases night, weekend and other pay differentials while establishing minimum staffing levels, creating a professional performance committee and expanding registered nurse positions. It also prevents the county from hiring newly graduated nurses at lower wages and without benefits.
Ratification voting took place just after the New Year, laying the groundwork for a contract covering 3,000 nurses working in the Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System, including St. Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy and DePaul Health Clinic in Morgan Hill, and O’Connor Hospital and Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose.
The new agreement covers RNPA nurses for the next four years.
However, the tentative deal still leaves the county with a lingering labor dispute with its biggest union, SEIU Local 521, which represents more than 12,000 service employees. The SEIU chapter early this month pulled out of mediation sessions after several weeks, claiming county negotiators weren’t dealing with vacancy and retention issues.
The SEIU represents more than half of the county’s 22,000-member workforce, but claims that they account for barely a third of the county payroll.
“Rank-and-file members call on the Board of Supervisors to justify offering 6 percent raises to lowest-paid workers and 11 percent to managers over the next two years while county claims financial hardship,” the union said in a statement released Dec. 18.
After weeks of voluntary mediation between the county and the SEIU, the workers’ bargaining team ended the mediation talks after they said the Board of Supervisors refused to address a “widespread vacancy and retention crisis” in county government.
County Executive Jeff Smith said vacancy rates are comparable to other similarly sized local governments. The SEIU also expressed concern about raises the county has settled on with its management employees. On Dec. 4, the county announced an offer to up pay for managers by 6 percent in 2019, 5 percent in 2020, and 3 percent per year thereafter.