Alvarado nurses look at rival union
Tenet's model contract not acceptable to them
By Michael Kinsman
May 30, 2003
Fearful that they were being steered toward a union of management's choosing, nurses at Alvarado Hospital Medical Center yesterday said they are seeking affiliation with a competing union.
The California Nurses Association said it is seeking to represent nurses at five hospitals owned by Tenet Healthcare Corp. of Santa Barbara, including Alvarado.
An estimated 350 to 400 nurses work at the San Diego hospital.
Susan Gorney, a nurse in the intensive care unit of Alvarado, said the nurses sought out CNA after it learned that Tenet had begun negotiating with the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees.
Tenet had reached agreement with the union on a so-called model contract for its hospitals where unionization efforts popped up. The model contract includes such pro-management tools as a nonstrike clause and mandatory arbitration.
"We were being pushed into a union that we hadn't chosen," Gorney said. "It's like representation without representation."
CNA represents about 50,000 nurses statewide, including a combined 2,000 at UCSD Medical Center, the San Diego Blood Bank and the Palomar Pomerado Health District in North County.
Tenet spokesman Steven Campanini denied that SEIU/AFSCME was being foisted upon hospital workers.
"This is a model union contract that we think helps us in the California marketplace," he said. "A union alliance like this helps us move forward when we are dealing with regulatory issues. We call it a strategic business move."
He said the model contract could be used to streamline labor negotiations, provide for stable, predictable labor costs over the course of a contract and to align management, employees and union officials to work on issues of mutual interest.
Tenet operates 40 hospitals in California and is the largest hospital company in the state.
He said the SEIU/AFSCME model contract calls for up to an 8 percent pay raise the first year, and additional raises of up to 7 percent in each of three additional years.
Still, the idea of a management-selected union didn't sit well with nurses at Alvarado, Gorney said.
"I didn't like it, and most of the nurses I know didn't like it," she said.
Upon learning of the model contract in early May, the nurses contacted CNA.
"We wanted a union that would represent us, and CNA only represents nurses," Gorney said. "We did not want a union that we thought was working behind our backs."
She complained that Alvarado pays nurses less than other medical centers in the community and that nurses have no pension plan other than a 401(k) savings plan.
The two unions likely will collect signatures of nurses to secure a union election. Campanini said that if a union election is held, nurses might have a choice between the SEIU/AFSCME, CNA or no union.
Last week, 725 nurses at the Palomar Pomerado Health District approved their first-ever bargaining agreement through the CNA. That three-year contract calls for a 22 percent pay increase the first year and additional raises over the next two years to a total of 30 percent.
Experienced nurses in the Poway/Escondido region can now earn $37.91 per hour, or about $73,000 a year. Beginning nurses can earn $25 per hour, or $48,000 per year.
In addition to Alvarado Hospital, CNA said it has begun organizing efforts at four other Tenet hospitals: Doctors Medical Center in Modesto, Midway Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles, Western Medical Center in Santa Ana and Twin Cities Community Hospital near Paso Robles.
About 35 percent of the state's hospitals have unionized nursing staffs, said CNA spokesman Charles Idelson. He said CNA's membership has doubled over the past five years and the union now is in 150 facilities.
Michael Kinsman: (619) 293-1370; email@example.com