California Nurses Association tells Barton Health they plan to strike | TahoeDailyTribune.com

California Nurses Association tells Barton Health they plan to strike

Local nurses protest at the corner of Lake Tahoe Boulevard and Third Street Monday morning.
Ryan Hoffman / Tahoe Daily Tribune

For the second time in nearly three months, nurses at Barton Health have provided notice that they intend to go on strike — the latest sign that the two sides remain at an impasse more than a year after negotiations started.

Nurses represented by the California Nurses Association informed Barton they intend to strike on Friday, May 24. Nurses argue the strike is an unfortunate but necessary step to force Barton to negotiate in good faith, which they say the hospital has failed to do.

Barton counters that it is “eager” to negotiate wages and benefits, which are two of the outstanding issues nurses say need to be resolved. But by calling for a strike, Barton says the nurses are delaying those negotiations.

Complaints to labor board

In addition to noticing the strike, the nurses union says it also filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. The nurses say hospital management has not bargained in good faith.

“They have reneged on promises, they have stalled negotiations, and they are withholding information that we have a right to have. We feel we have no choice but to strike,” Beth Dameral, a registered nurse at Barton, said in a press release.

Contrary to the nurses’ claims, Barton told the Tribune it has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board contending the union is refusing to engage in good faith collective bargaining.

“CNA says it will not move ahead to attempt to reach an agreement until Barton agrees to the union’s Association Security proposal, which mandates that Barton terminate any California RN who does not join the union. CNA’s proposal gives Nevada RNs a choice, based on Nevada law. Barton wants all nurses to have a choice and does not want to terminate anyone for their choice,” Mindi Befu, director of public relations at Barton, told the Tribune in an email.

Both cases remain open, according to online records with the National Labor Relations Board.

Negotiations stalled

The escalation comes approximately three months after the nurses called off a planned strike in exchange for Barton cancelling plans to bring in temporary workers to fill in for striking nurses.

After that decision, both the California Nurses Association and Barton Health agreed to a “cooling off period.”

The two sides have been in negotiations since March 2018, about four months after the nurses voted 123-17 to unionize.

In January the nurses overwhelmingly voted to grant their negotiating team the ability to call a strike. Days later they gave notice of their plans for a one-day strike in late February.

Nurses pointed to pay, benefits and staffing levels as primary drivers of high turnover, which they said impacts patient care.

Those points were repeated in explaining the reason for the strike planned for later this month.

“We voted in the union because we need a union to address the bare-bones staffing and the need to retain and recruit experienced nurses to our hospital,” Dameral said “But since we sat down at the table, hospital management has made it clear they are not willing to work with us.

Barton has argued throughout the unionization and negotiating process that it offers competitive pay and benefits and that its turnover rate has, for the most part, been better than the state average in recent years.

Registered nurse turnover at Barton was 9.5% compared to a statewide average of 10.7% in 2016, according to Barton. In 2017 Barton was at 8.7%, compared to 11.4% statewide. In 2018 turnover at Barton rose above the statewide average — 11% and 10.5% respectively.

Barton also points to the removal of a waiver in 2017, which effectively increased staffing ratios from one nurse for every six patients to one nurse for every five patients.

“Once approved, Barton began recruiting additional RNs to reach the 1:5 ratio. Additionally, since 2017, Barton has added 31 nurses to the team increasing coverage for all departments,” Befu said.

Days before the planned strike in February, the nurses called off the strike and Barton canceled plans to bring in temporary workers.

While the strike was scheduled for one day, the temporary workers Barton planned to hire were to remain on the job for a minimum of five days — a requirement that Barton said the union was aware of.

A mediator with the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service was brought in to try and reach an agreement.

According to Barton, the two sides met six times since then. Four of the sessions occurred with the mediator.

“In the first eight months of bargaining we held 19 joint bargaining sessions and reached 26 tentative agreements. However, no agreement has been reached in the last 12 bargaining sessions, in spite of proposals made by Barton in the presence of a federal mediator,” Befu said.

Contractual obligation or lockout?

In response to the recent notice to strike, Barton said it plans to hire replacement nurses who, as was the case last time, require a minimum of five days on the job. That means nurses who go on strike will be unable to return to work before May 29.

Barton argues this is a contractual obligation that the union is aware of.

Nurses describe it as a union-busting tactic known as a lockout.

“No one wants to go on strike, we want to be at the bedside taking care of our patients. … But Barton has made it clear they don’t want us to have a voice in patient care, and they are determined to bust the union,” Kelli Teteak, a registered nurse and Barton employee of 18 years, said in a press release. “Hospital management is taking punitive actions against nurses who are standing up for their rights. The hospital is threatening to impose a four-day lockout against striking nurses. This is a bully tactic aimed at punishing nurses by making it hard for them to provide for their families as they fight for the wellbeing of the community.”

Regardless of whether the strike occurs, Barton said it will offer full services during the strike. Scheduled procedures at Lake Tahoe Surgery Center will be relocated.

“Barton will continue to provide exceptional patient care during the strike. We’ve hired qualified replacement nurses who are specially trained for this type of work and will work alongside Barton staff and physicians,” Befu said in a statement sent to media organizations.