Barton Health nurses grant labor negotiators authority to call for strike (updated) | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Barton Health nurses grant labor negotiators authority to call for strike (updated)

Barton Health nurses on Wednesday, Jan. 23, voted to grant their bargaining team the ability to call for a strike.
Ryan Hoffman / Tahoe Daily Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Nurses at Barton Health have overwhelmingly granted their bargaining team the ability to call for a strike in the event ongoing negotiations fail to move forward in a favorable direction — a move that Barton believes is premature.

Exact figures were not made public, but 98 percent voted in favor, according to a California Nurses Association official. A majority of the approximately 170 employees eligible to vote did so Wednesday. Voting ran from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Barton said it had no way of confirming the vote total.

“The results of the vote shows the overwhelming support of the Barton RNs to strike if necessary,” Beth Dameral, a registered nurse for over 20 years and member of the nurses’ bargaining team, told the Tribune in a statement. “The strong response is a display of the nurses’ solidarity and strength and a reflection of their frustration with delay tactics by management in terms of negotiating our contract.”

Barton refutes the characterization that it is delaying negotiations.

“Over the course of 25 bargaining meetings, we’ve made steady progress and believe a strike vote is premature,” Mindi Befu, Barton’s director of public relations, told the Tribune in a written statement. “New contracts often take up to 36 months to negotiate and we’re in month 10, so we’re surprised the nurses’ union would take this step at this time.”

The two sides have been in negotiations since March 2018, roughly four months after the nurses voted to unionize.

Wednesday’s vote is the latest public signal that Barton’s nurses are frustrated with the negotiations. In December nurses demonstrated on the corner of U.S. 50 and Third Street in an attempt to raise awareness and public support.

At the heart of the matter, nurses are looking for better benefits, which they say will reduce turnover and lead to improved care.

“Turnover at Barton is really high and part of that has to deal with the health care benefits,” Shawn Bartlett, labor representative with the California Nurses Association, told the Tribune.

Barton counters that it offers competitive benefits, including “a generous paid vacation package.”

“Every employee can choose from three health plans,” Befu said. “The most popular plan costs just $20-$60 per pay period for full coverage depending on the size of the employee’s family.”

Further, the health care system says its turnover rate is below the state average.

Asked how he would respond to some criticism that the nurses are already receiving better health insurance than many other people in the community, Bartlett said the issue was bigger than individual benefits.

“The nurses aren’t just fighting for themselves — they’re fighting for improved standards and quality care for the community,” Bartlett said, adding that Barton has yet to respond to a benefit proposal the nurses submitted shortly after negotiations started.

Asked if, given the lopsided outcome of the union-related votes, hospital leadership believes it is in sync with its employees, Befu said there are occasional disagreements in complex organizations like hospitals.

“We believe we do a very good job providing a secure work environment to employees with competitive wages and benefits,” she said. “We value our nurses as we do all our employees. Hospitals are large, complicated organizations and occasionally we don’t agree on everything, but we are all here because we care about the delivery of quality patient care to our Lake Tahoe community.”

Wednesday’s vote grants the nurses’ negotiating team the authority to call for a strike. The hope, according to Bartlett, is that the two sides can reach an agreement without a strike. He said the next bargaining meeting is slated for Tuesday.

“A strike is a last resort,” Bartlett said.

“We’re hoping that management will see there’s an overwhelming amount of nurses, just like when they voted to go union, willing to fight for a contract that they know they deserve …”

Befu said Barton is committed to continuing negotiations.

“We believe we are making progress. New contracts can take up to 36 months to secure and we’re confident we’ll end up with a contract that both the nurses and Barton can be proud of.”

Should the nurses ultimately decide to call a strike they are required to give Barton 10 days notice. In that event, Barton says it will be prepared and patient care will not be jeopardized.

“Quality patient care will continue regardless of any labor action. Barton will employ a healthcare staffing firm to provide us with qualified, experienced nurses to ensure that our patients receive uninterrupted, high-quality care.”

 

ORIGINAL POST

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Nurses at Barton Health have overwhelmingly granted their bargaining team the ability to call for a strike in the event ongoing negotiations fail to move forward in a favorable direction.

Although exact figures were not made public, 98 percent voted in favor, according to a California Nurses Association official. A majority of the approximately 170 employees eligible to vote did so Wednesday. Voting ran from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The two sides have been in negotiations since March 2018, roughly four months after the nurses voted to unionize.

Wednesday’s vote is the latest public signal that Barton’s nurses are frustrated with the negotiations. In December nurses demonstrated on the corner of U.S. 50 and Third Street in an attempt to raise awareness and public support.

“They’ve engaged in a lot of delay tactics,” Shawn Bartlett, labor representative with the California Nurses Association, said of Barton.

Although it was unaware of Wednesday’s voting outcome, a statement issued by Barton said it was surprised by the timing of the vote.

“We’ve made progress but have yet to discuss wages and benefits, so we’re surprised that the union would encourage the nurses to take a strike vote at this early stage,” the statement read.

Nurses counter that they submitted a benefit proposal shortly after the negotiations started, and that Barton has not responded to the proposal. Better benefits are critical to improving what Bartlett and others say is a high turnover rate in the nursing ranks. More stability will lead to improved care, they argue.

“The nurses aren’t just fighting for themselves — they’re fighting for improved standards and quality care for the community,” Bartlett said.

In the past Barton has countered its turnover rate is comparable to California’s average for nurses.

Wednesday’s vote grants the nurses’ negotiating team the authority to call for a strike. The hope, according to Bartlett, is that the two sides can reach an agreement without a strike. He said the next bargaining meeting is slated for Tuesday.

“A strike is a last resort,” Bartlett said.

“We’re hoping that management will see there’s an overwhelming amount of nurses, just like when they voted to go union, willing to fight for a contract that they know they deserve …”

Barton says it is committed to continuing negotiations.

“Barton Health will continue to meet with the union’s bargaining team in good faith with the goal of reaching a fair contract for our nurses.”

Should the nurses ultimately decide to call a strike they are required to give Barton 10 days notice. In that event, Barton says it will be prepared and patient care will not be jeopardized.

“At the end of the day we’re a community hospital and our obligation is to the South Lake Tahoe community.”

This story will be updated.