BUSINESS

Kaiser nurses end strike over contract at its L.A. Medical Center

Nurses at Kaiser Permanente's Los Angeles Medical Center will go back to work Tuesday after a weeklong strike aimed at securing a contract with higher staffing levels and better pay.

More than 1,000 registered nurses represented by the California Nurses Assn. have been on the picket line since March 15, said Jed Smith, the union's labor representative for the Los Angeles Medical Center.

Negotiations began in September and the last session was on March 10, said Patti Clausen, chief nurse executive at Los Angeles Medical Center. She said there is not a set date for bargaining, but that Kaiser is "open to bargain any time they ask us."

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The union represents about 75% of the nurses at the Kaiser hospital. The Kaiser nurses joined the California Nurses Assn. last year and they are seeking their first collective bargaining contract.

Aisha Ealey, a registered nurse in the neo-natal intensive care unit at Los Angeles Medical Center and a union member, said the hospital is understaffed and that nurses have to "float" to other units where they are not as knowledgeable.

She said staffing levels are especially critical at Los Angeles Medical Center because it is a "tertiary hospital" that treats some of the sickest Kaiser patients with specialized care.

"We need more staff," Ealey said. "We need qualified nurses."

In a statement, Kaiser said its nursing staff ratios meet or exceed California state guidelines.

"We do not float any nurse to any other department unless they have been given orientation to that department, and they must always have the clinical skills necessary for that department," Clausen said in an interview.

The union is also calling for a restructured benefits package and higher wages. Smith said there has not been a pay increase since 2011.

Kaiser said it has proposed wages for the nurses that would "keep them among the best paid nurses in Southern California."

Clausen said Kaiser gave nurses "a very generous offer" that would be at par with the rest of the Southern California Kaiser Permanente hospitals. She said the increase would put the nurses 20% higher than the rest of the Southern California market.

Demand for healthcare staff services was expected to grow, on average, about 6.6% each year from 2014 through 2016, according to a 2015 report by investment bank Harris Williams & Co. on the healthcare staffing market.

The report attributed the increase to the Affordable Care Act, aging Baby Boomers and ongoing nursing and health professional shortages. 

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