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Riverside Press-Enterprise: "RCH nurses up ante in negotiations"

November 4, 2010

Riverside Press-Enterprise By JACK KATZANEK November 3, 2010

More than 800 registered nurses at Riverside Community Hospital have threatened to strike unless there is more progress in contract talks that have dragged on for most of this year.The nurses at the Riverside hospital, one of three Southern California facilities negotiating jointly with HCA Inc., the owner of the hospitals, have been without a contract since March 31. They are seeking wage increases to bring the hospital into line with RNs at other hospitals, along with better working conditions, a spokeswoman for the union said.Earlier this week 84 percent of the Riverside nurses voted to authorize its leaders to call a strike. Nurses at West Hills Hospital and Medical Center also authorized a walkout, and Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks was scheduled to complete its vote today, said Aimee Barajas, communications director for Local 121RN of the Service Employees International Union."The nurses have tried to be patient," Barajas said. "We've made a lot of compromises on language and patient-safety issues, but on a lot, HCA doesn't want to budge." A hospital spokeswoman declined to comment on the strike vote or the ongoing negotiations.One of the biggest issues involves the heavy lifting that goes into handling patients, Barajas said. Nurses are often asked to lift and transport patients who are increasingly heavier. This has resulted in numerous back, neck and shoulder injuries, some of them career-threatening, she saidThe solution to that would be investing in equipment for lifting patients or hiring more nursing assistants or aides. Barajas said HCA has been unwilling to do those things.

Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA, the largest private owner of hospitals in the world, reported a profit of $293 million in the second quarter of 2010, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. Revenues from hospitals open at least a year increased 3.8 percent from the same quarter in 2009.

Registered nurses are usually paid about $30 an hour to start and max out at about $43 an hour, Barajas said. In these negotiations, she said the union is seeking raises up to 2 percent to adjust pay for nurses not currently at the established scale.

Authorizing a strike is a tactic unions take to put more pressure on employers during negotiations. If SEIU does call a strike it would give a 10-day notice to allow the hospital to find replacements.

Reach Jack Katzanek at 951 368-9553 or at