On the heels of a successful nurses’ strike at private hospitals in San Francisco, about 200 unionized nurses at UC San Diego Medical Center picketed Wednesday to demand that the UC system give them markedly higher salaries and better working conditions when their contract expires Monday.
Pickets also turned out at UC Davis Wednesday, and they are expected Thursday at UC medical facilities in Irvine, Berkeley and San Francisco; and Friday in Los Angeles.
The informational picketing marks an intensifying of the campaign by the California Nurses Assn., which was behind the San Francisco strike, to improve working conditions for the 6,000 registered nurses in the University of California system.
Union representatives would not rule out the possibility that UC nurses would walk off their jobs, especially in light of the 21% pay raises the San Francisco nurses won in August.
“It has had an impact on people,” said Michele Molotsky, organizer for the nurses association in San Diego. “People are seeing that other nurses are taking action. They are feeling more empowered, and feeling it can make a difference.”
Negotiators have been meeting since early October without reaching agreement on a new 2-year contract. The current 2-year agreement expires Monday.
The nurses have been demanding a 20% salary increase on top of wage parity systemwide. They also have asked for changes in policies regarding overtime, holiday pay, longevity pay and other staffing matters to encourage nurses to stay in the profession.
Greg Kramp, chief negotiator for the UC Board of Regents, said the nurses reduced their wage increase demand to 15% but that they are holding firm on wage parity.
Tuesday night, Kramp said, the UC raised its wage offers slightly to increases of 3.5% in San Diego to 10% in Los Angeles; there was no attempt to even out the salaries among the various facilities.
In the current system, top-paid nurses in San Francisco earn $4,700 a year more than those in similar positions at the lowest-paid facilities, UC Irvine and UCSD, according to nurse association figures.
Bringing all nurses in the system up to the UC San Francisco pay scales would cost the UC system $14.8 million a year even if no other wage increase was granted, Kramp said. Current salary costs for registered nurses are about $148 million, he said.
“Our position is that we are proposing to pay market rates based upon the salary survey information for each of the geographical areas in the state,” Kramp said. “We conduct very extensive salary surveys of all the competing hospitals.”
Those surveys showed that average private-sector nurse salary lows range from $31,591 in Irvine and $33,116 in San Diego to $38,127 in San Francisco, he said.
The lowest average salaries--about $32,400--for UC nurses are at Irvine and San Diego, according to nurse association figures. The highest--$36,804--is at San Francisco.
UCSD nurses were angered by the UC system’s latest wage offer, Molotsky said.
“The nurses’ reaction to that was: ‘First they slap us in the face, and then they punch us in the stomach,’ ” Molotsky said.
At UC Irvine, where nurses earn an average of $11 a month less than UCSD nurses, nurses were offered 3.5% immediately but another 2.5% next May.
Nurses at San Francisco--already the highest paid--were offered 4.5% immediately and 5.5% more beginning in June.
In Los Angeles, nurses were offered 10% immediately; nurse anesthetists there were offered 18%.
It is unclear to union officials and hospital administrators how many nurses would go out on strike should one occur.
At UCSD, for example, there are about 1,000 nurses, but only 400 of those belong to the union. About 200 nurses work only on an on-call basis, so that the effect of a strike by 400 nurses would nearly be negated should all 200 of those come to work, Molotsky said.
However, Teresa Conrow, organizer for the union in Los Angeles, said that more nurses are joining the union as the contract expiration date approaches. In addition, she said, many of those who walked off the job in a January strike at Los Angeles County-run hospitals were not union members.
John Stavros, marketing director for UCSD Medical Center, said a strike could force the hospital to stop admitting patients for elective surgeries and to transfer patients to other hospitals in the area. The hospital would concentrate its staffing efforts on special areas such as the trauma center, burn unit and neonatal intensive care, Stavros said.
“We’d do the best we could to keep those open,” he said.
Nurses see the current nationwide nursing shortage as offering them a particularly good chance to raise their pay and alleviate stressful working conditions that they say compromise patient care.
Not only are there now 300,000 fewer registered nurses nationwide than hospitals need, the nurses association said, but nursing school enrollments fell 26% between 1983 and 1987.
Hospitals are trying to save money now by cutting back on staffing.
“The UC system needs to make a commitment to nursing,” said Linda Proctor, a UCSD nurse and leader among the nurses there.
She noted that a procedural change in July resulted in fewer nurses being on medical-surgical floors at UCSD, yet the amount of work that needs to be done is the same, she said.