No contract in sight for Sutter Roseville nurses

Registered nurses want higher pay, safe staffing levels
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Working without a contract since July 1, registered nurses at Sutter Roseville Medical Center recently staged another protest against their employer and no resolution seems to be in sight. “It’s been six months without a contract and so it’s been a long negotiation, and we just want a fair contract and parity with other hospitals in the area,” said Andrea Seils, a labor and delivery nurse who serves on the California Nurses Association bargaining team. About 250 nurses joined Seils for an informational picket Thursday at the intersection of North Sunrise Avenue and East Roseville Parkway. About 800 registered nurses work at the local medical center. “We respect the rights of our nurses to picket but we believe it’s unfortunate we are so far apart from the union on wages,” said Robin Montgomery, spokeswoman for Sutter Health Sacramento Sierra Region. “We value our nurses and our compensation package reflects that.” Sutter is proposing a wage increase of 13.5 percent over the life of the four-year contract with some nurses receiving a 28 percent wage boost when step increases are included, Montgomery said. Sutter is also offering what it considers a “generous” retirement program, a fully funded pension fund, free health care for nurses and their dependents, and 41 paid days off each year. Montgomery previously told the Press Tribune that a full-time Sutter Roseville nurse with 10 years experience makes an average annual salary of $113,000, excluding overtime and weekend pay. But the nurses say they routinely lose a portion of their salary because of canceled shifts. They also argue that Kaiser Permanente pays nurses an average of 24 percent more than Sutter Roseville. The annual mean salary for a registered nurse in the United States is about $67,000 with the mean wage about $32 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This indicates that the middle 50 percent earn between roughly $51,000 and $77,000 a year. But wages for registered nurses are much higher in California and in the greater Sacramento region, which is one of the top-five-paying metropolitan areas in the state. The annual mean salary here is $90,000 and the mean hourly wage is $43. Nursing is the largest health care occupation in the country — registered nurses held about 2.6 million jobs in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. To become a registered nurse, a person needs an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree or diploma from an approved nursing program. Nurses also protested Thursday against what they characterize as ongoing and serious shortcomings in patient care at the facility. Some nurses accuse Sutter Roseville of canceling their shifts to meet mandated ratio minimums, instead of opting for an acuity-based staffing model, which is based on the patients’ level of care. “We’re fighting for patient safety and safe staffing and good patient care,” Seils said. They accuse Sutter Roseville of “systemic understaffing” and demand that the medical center agree to a contract that protects patient safety by fully staffing the facility on every unit at all times, according to a union press release. “They are frequently out of compliance with California’s safe staffing law, and the people who pay the price are the patients,” said registered nurse Paul Netto in the release. But Sutter’s spokeswoman said the local medical center complies with the law. “California has the nation’s toughest nurse staffing ratios with more nurses per patient than anywhere else in the country and the medical center meets or exceeds these staffing requirements,” Montgomery said. A recent study — published on the union’s website — found that the state’s nurse-to-patient ratio law reduces patient mortality, assures nurses spend time with patients and promotes the retention of experienced personnel. During Thursday’s protest, the nurses also argued that Sutter does an inadequate job preparing for the lifting of patients, exposing nurses to an increased risk of injuries. Sutter Roseville and the California Nurses Association have held 19 bargaining sessions since April 15, 2010. “The nurses love Roseville and our patients,” Seils said. “We believe in what we’re fighting for and we just want the best hospital for our community.” Sena Christian can be reached at