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Nurses at UCI Protest Suspensions

The union, which is in the midst of contract talks, says the four are being punished for participating in its activities.

June 30, 2005|Erica Williams | Times Staff Writer

More than two dozen registered nurses at UCI Medical Center in Orange picketed the hospital Wednesday, calling on administrators to revoke the suspensions last week of four of their colleagues.

The action came a day after the California Nurses Assn. filed a complaint with the state Public Employment Relations Board accusing the University of California system of unlawfully retaliating against the nurses for their participation in union activities.

Administrators, who met briefly with protesters outside the hospital's entrance, declined to discuss the case, citing employee privacy concerns.

The weeklong suspensions, to take place in July, stem from the nurses' refusal to cross a picket line of striking hospital service workers on April 14, union officials said.

Nurses Tam Nguyen, Lilliam Triana, Maureen Berry and Cathryn Montgomery had notified their managers that they would honor the picket lines that day, said Joe Lindsay, the union's chief negotiator.

"We had nurses at other UC facilities and other UC employees from other unions who joined the strike that day, and no one was disciplined except for these four," Lindsay said.

The dispute comes amid contract negotiations between the University of California and the 9,000-member nurses union, which have dragged on for five months. The current three-year contract, which expired April 30, has been extended through July 8.

The main sticking point has been disagreement over nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, union officials said. The union wants the UC system to commit to one nurse for every five patients under a 1999 law.

That law, signed by then-Gov. Gray Davis, required one nurse for every six patients by Jan. 1, 2004, and one nurse for every five patients by Jan. 1, 2005. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has unsuccessfully sought to delay the latest staffing increase until 2008.

Also at issue in the nurses' contract negotiations with the UC system are wage increases and retirement and health benefits.

The suspension of the UCI nurses was announced Friday, a day after the union called for a statewide vote on what the university system said was its final offer. Union leaders have recommended that nurses reject the proposal, a move that could lead to a strike.

The timing of the suspensions is suspicious, said Nguyen, a nurse negotiator. "I believe it is a bullying tactic in order to scare off nurses and to silence the voice of nurses."

Voting on the proposed UC contract began Tuesday and continues through July 7.

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