Nurses at three SoCal hospitals reach agreement on COVID-19-related pact, averting strike

Registered nurse Carmen Verano answers a phone call in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center in Tarzana, California on December 18, 2020. (Photo by Apu GOMES / AFP) (Photo by APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images)

The union representing registered nurses and other staff at three Hospital Corporation of America facilities in Southern California have reached a tentative agreement with the company aimed at improving COVID-19 safety and averting a possible strike.

The covered nurses and licensed medical professionals work at Los Robles Regional Medical Center, Riverside Community Hospital and West Hills Hospital and Medical Center, representatives of Service Employees  International Union Local 121RN said. The members are scheduled to vote to ratify the contract Dec. 22 and 23.

Saturday's tentative agreement concluded 102 hours of negotiations since Dec. 11, after members voted to authorize a strike and a federal mediator was brought in to help resolve issues.

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The registered nurses and other hospital staff sought improved staffing levels and a guarantee that in the event of a public health emergency, the hospitals will provide all PPE as required by laws and regulations.

They also won more testing, better quarantine policies and a guarantee to immediately sit down, discuss and bargain over the hospitals' planned response within two weeks of a declared public health emergency. 

The contract includes a commitment to hire dozens of RNs at each hospital so that staff can safely take rest and meal breaks.

"I've been on the bargaining team before, but this time it feels like we made history,'' said Kerry Cavazos, a nurse at Riverside Community, and chapter president of the union at the hospital.

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"We were able to get some strong pandemic safety guarantees in our union contract,'' she said. "We may be one of the first health care unions in the country to get such strong language in our contract.''

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