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Hospital Hires Replacements in Nurse Walkout

Labor: Though some may return Friday, strike leaders see little hope for a speedy settlement in dispute over 8% raise and safety conditions.

September 17, 1998|SOLOMON MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TARZANA — More than 90 replacement nurses continued to staff the wards at Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center onWednesday as union officials and company executives squabbled over pay and working conditions at the 236-bed hospital.

Union nurses walked off the job Tuesday after their demands for an 8% pay raise were not met. Regular staff nurses expressed a willingness to return to work by Friday, but some union officials expressed pessimism about the chances for settling the dispute any time soon.

The hospital's owner, Santa Barbara-based Tenet Healthcare Corp., has offered a 6% wage increase for longtime employees and a 4% raise for newer nurses. But officials with the American Federation of Nurses, Service Employees International Union, Local 535, say that's not enough, since most staff nurses took a salary cut in 1992, which was followed by a five-year wage freeze.

The union has also demanded that the hospital improve safety by, among other things, supplying nurses with safety shields to prevent accidental needle pricks. Labor representatives also want staffing levels increased so that nurses are not overworked.

Tenet says the Encino-Tarzana hospital is already one of Southern California's safest, but the company has agreed to examine new safety procedures. Company executives also argue that its nurses are already at the top of the wage scale compared with other Southern California nurses.

On Wednesday, in response to the walkout, Tenet locked out about 225 staff nurses. It invited back to work about 40 nurses in some of the most vital positions, such as those involved in surgery preparation and recovery. The union said most staff nurses refused to cross picket lines, but the hospital said 30 of them returned to work.

About 50 nurses have signed on with the union since the strike began, raising the number of dues-paying members to 330, McCloskey said. About 400 nurses work at the hospital.

The hospital said it plans to invite all regular nurses back to work on Friday, after its contract expires with U.S. Nursing, the replacement firm.

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