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Nurses Union OKs Tentative Pact With Kaiser-Permanente

September 07, 2002|ERIC MALNIC | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The California Nurses Assn. reached tentative agreement with Kaiser-Permanente on a new contract Friday, heading off a potential strike by 10,000 nurses at 17 hospitals and 37 other medical facilities in Northern and Central California.

The new contract would provide an across-the-board salary increase of 26.5% over four years, raising the eventual salaries of some nurses to about $125,000 a year, according to Deborah Burger, a registered nurse who headed the union's negotiating team.

These new wages, she said, would match or better those of any other comparable nurses in the United States.

Burger said the new contract also provides an end to mandatory overtime, beginning Jan. 1.

It also will provide improved pension benefits and retiree health benefits. "I think it's a great contract, a fair contract for both sides," she said.

Mary Ann Thode, who headed Kaiser-Permanente's negotiating team, agreed.

"We feel really good about it," Thode said.

Kaiser is the largest health maintenance organization in the state, and the union is the nation's largest nurse-bargaining unit.

Negotiations lasted for three months, culminating in a marathon session Thursday that eventually resolved the issue that Burger said was the most contentious in the talks: mandatory overtime.

Burger said ending the practice, except in cases of public emergency, would attract new people to the profession and retain those now working.

"This will go a long way toward addressing the current nursing shortage," she said.

The state has one of the worst nursing shortages in decades.

Hospitals frequently have 15% to 20% of their nursing positions vacant, despite signing bonuses and other incentives.

Burger said that the new contract includes establishment of a pool of nurses available to work in disciplines in which they have special training.

"This is expected to help address problems in which some registered nurses have been forced to work in hospital areas for which they do not have clinical expertise," she said.

The new contract is expected to be ratified by union membership later this month.

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