Negotiators for nurses and owners of St. John's hospitals in Oxnard and Camarillo met briefly Wednesday, but failed to resolve key differences on pay and work conditions that could lead to a nurses' strike next week.
Of the 43 contract issues being discussed, 11 have been resolved, both parties said. But none were resolved Wednesday in talks both sides described as frustratingly short and the fault of the other.
"Management came in at 4:04 [p.m.] and left at 4:26, and we'd been here waiting for them since 8 a.m.," said nurse Janet Brown, a member of the negotiating team. "We wanted to discuss staffing. Our primary concern is having good nurse-patient ratios. And they refused."
But hospital spokesman Armando Azarloza said Wednesday's short session was the union's fault and part of an overall plan by the Service Employees International Union to strike five hospitals owned by Catholic Healthcare West at the same time.
"We were available the entire day," he said. But he said the union refused to discuss the $1.4-million pay offer the hospital wanted on Wednesday's agenda. "We have a reasonable proposal on the table, but they're stalling."
The nurses have said the St. John's negotiations have nothing to do with those at three San Francisco area hospitals, where strikes are also set for Dec. 14.
Talks are set to resume this morning and will continue next week until Thursday if necessary to keep most of the 530 nurses at St. John's Regional Medical Center and St. John's Pleasant Valley Hospital from striking.
The unionized nurses have approved a two-week strike if the stalemate continues. Azarloza said the hospital would remain open, staffed by its nonstriking and temporary replacement nurses. Elective procedures such as nonemergency surgeries would be considered on a case-by-case basis, and some surgeries would be delayed until after the strike, he said.
Negotiators have met 38 times since March, and a federal mediator has worked to settle the dispute. Each side accuses the other of bargaining in bad faith.
Nurses maintain that their salaries and benefits are far below those at comparable area hospitals, and that St. John's staffing levels run nurses ragged and jeopardize patients.
Hospital officials say patients are safe. And they say nurses have not responded to their recent $1.4-million wage offer that increases the nurses' salary range from $18.50 for inexperienced nurses to more than $29 per hour for veterans.
That offer essentially matches the nursing contract at Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks. The union represents nurses at Los Robles and, since January, most nurses at St. John's.
Union officials say there are key differences in the contracts, especially in the second and third years of a three-year contract, when St. John's has agreed to only 3% annual increases. The union also maintains that some better-paid veteran nurses would hardly get any raise at all under the hospital's proposal, a claim the hospital denies.
Nurses say their demand for a say in staffing is the key outstanding issue.
Hospital officials said nurses always have participated in staffing decisions, but that management insists on maintaining control over staffing levels.