Santa Clara County nurses prepare for three-day strike over wages, working conditions – The Mercury News

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In what’s expected to be a three-day strike impacting three South Bay hospitals and possibly patient care, thousands of Santa Clara County nurses plan to walk off the job early Tuesday in protest over workplace conditions, wages and staffing ratios.

The strike — the first in the union’s history — is scheduled to start at 4:59 a.m. Tuesday and end at 6:59 a.m. on Friday. It could affect county-owned clinics as well as its three hospitals: Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and O’Connor Hospital in San Jose and St. Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy.

Ninety-seven percent of the members in the Registered Nurses Professional Association — which represents more than 3,750 nurses nurses working for the Santa Clara Valley Healthcare system — voted earlier this year to authorize a three-day unfair labor practice strike.

The county said it plans to continue operating the hospitals as normal but may need to reschedule some appointments and surgeries if they can safely do so. Patients affected by the strike will be contacted directly by the Santa Clara Valley Healthcare system.

“Our highest priority is making sure our community members continue to get the high-quality healthcare they need,” County Executive James Williams said in a statement. “We are taking all necessary steps to safeguard patients, employees and visitors from the impacts of any possible strike activity.”

The nurse’s association is asking the county for a 15% wage increase through October 2025 — 5% annually retroactive to the expiration of the last contract in October. The county’s latest proposal on March 21, which the union rejected, offered the nurses a 13% raise between now and October 2026, with 3% at ratification, 4% in October 2024, another 4% in October 2025 and 2% in October 2026.

In a news release announcing the strike, the union said the county’s wages haven’t kept pace with compensation at other local hospitals, both public and private. As a result, the nurse’s association said it’s been difficult to hire and retain nurses and that many have had trouble affording to live in the communities they serve.

But county officials disagree, stating that Santa Clara County has “one of the most competitive salary and benefits package for clinical nurses in the Bay Area,” according to a memo released last week. The county said the average salary, including overtime and differential pay for a full-time, union-represented nurse is $259,103. The county said its turnover rate for registered nurses is 8.1%, which is lower than the national turnover rate of 18.2%.

But wages aren’t the only sticking point in negotiations. The nurse’s union said the county has “ignored unsafe staffing ratios” and “failed to make sufficient investments in resources” to keep healthcare workers safe.

Several county nurses told The Mercury News there has been an uptick in workplace violence in recent years, and the county hasn’t offered adequate protections.

Maybelline Que, the association’s vice president, who has been a nurse at Valley Medical for a decade, said nurses are often yelled at, kicked, slapped, spit on or groped by patients.

In 2021, Que was punched in the face by a patient who was upset he wasn’t allowed to eat before surgery. As a result, she received a concussion and was out of work for nine months.

“We work for the county who serves underserved communities, and we do this because we love our community and we want to be active members,” Que said in an interview. “But we don’t want that to come at the cost of our lives. Your safety should be the number one thing that your employer safe guards, so we want them to finally do something to protect us.”

Negotiations between the county and the nurse’s union are intensifying as the county is projecting a $250 million deficit for the upcoming fiscal year. At a Board of Supervisors meeting, county officials said labor costs have been outpacing revenues — particularly in the health care system.

The county expects the cost of salaries and benefits to increase by $488 million, or 9.5%, between this fiscal year and the next. Last summer, the county narrowly avoided a strike with its largest union after it reached a deal to give the roughly 12,000 SEIU Local 521 members, which includes 9-1-1 dispatchers, social workers and hospital staff, its largest wage increase in more than two decades.

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