After 18 months of deadlock and the threat of a strike, nurses at Ventura County Medical Center have agreed to sign a contract that they believe will protect their rights in case of layoffs.
With negotiations at an impasse last April, the County Board of Supervisors unilaterally imposed a new pay and benefits package on the nurses. The California Nurses Assn., which already had threatened to strike, took the case to court and asked a judge to overturn the county's action.
When legal action failed, the nurses and the county returned to negotiations and reached what both sides say is a compromise. Nurses voted throughout the day Monday to accept the new plan.
"It was a vast improvement from what they shoved down our throats the first time around," said Tammy Gamblin, a spokeswoman for the California Nurses Assn. "It was a middle ground."
Essentially, the new contract gives the hospital some of the latitude it sought to lay off nurses or send home staff members without pay on days when the wards are empty.
But it sets some limits on when and how staff members can be sent home and protects the most senior nurses in layoffs. It also allows nurses to save hours in a "comp time bank" and use those hours on days they are sent home.
"I'm very pleased to see that, at the end, we were able to compromise with our nurses," said County Hospital Administrator Pierre Durand. "It's something that's acceptable to them and something we can live with."