Resident and intern physicians at County-USC Medical Center have tentatively settled their contract dispute with Los Angeles County, and negotiators made progress in reaching agreement with registered nurses, county officials said Saturday.
Representatives of the 1,500 doctors reached a tentative agreement with the county at 10:30 p.m. Friday, three days after the doctors abandoned their work stoppage at County-USC, said Eliot Marcus, the county's director of employee relations.
Details of the contract, which must be ratified by the doctors and the Board of Supervisors, were not divulged.
Meanwhile, county negotiators Saturday were trying to wrap up negotiations with the nurses after reaching common ground Friday night on the issue of the union's rights in the event that the county wants to hire private nurses. In addition, agreements were completed on several side issues, including workload and the union's right to represent nurses.
"There was a great deal of progress made last night," Marcus said. A lot of the resolved issues, he said, "had to be disposed of before we could get to the meat of the problem."
'Major Issues' Remaining
But Sharon Grimpe, the general manager of Local 660 of the Service Employees International Union, seemed to downplay the progress. "There are major issues (remaining), so it's not like it's over," she said.
Money remains the major stumbling block. The county's 4,000 nurses, who staff the six public hospitals and health clinics, are demanding a 19.5% pay increase over a two-year period. The county is offering a 14.5% hike.
The nurses, who have been working without a contract since September, staged a walkout late last month, but a Superior Court judge ordered them back to work. While the nursing ranks were depleted, the county was forced to shift some patients to private hospitals, refuse most new patients, forgo elective surgery and close health clinics.
But when nurses returned to work, some residents and interns walked out. The doctors' departure did not create the same level of havoc, however, because the picketers would scurry in to check on patients when their beepers went off.
The doctors left their posts to express anger at the county's practice of placing some residents at County-USC Medical Center on the USC payroll. The doctors had complained that the county's policy of "contracting out" could kill their union and hurt patient care.
Attend Board Meeting
The doctors agreed to return to work and resume bargaining after more than 100 of them attended a Board of Supervisors' meeting Tuesday where the labor dispute was discussed.
Richard Dixon, the county's chief administrative officer, said he felt negotiations were successful because the doctors got to see that the board members were not ogres.
"Meeting the people who run the county face to face, you find out they are nice guys and pretty reasonable," Dixon said. "That contributed to us getting together."
Dixon said the county successfully insisted that the county's pilot project on private contracting will continue.
The Joint Council of Interns and Residents, which represents about 800 doctors in training at County-USC, could not be reached for comment.