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Nurses Vote to Unionize At Alvarado Hospital

Nurses Vote to Unionize At Alvarado Hospital

BY MARION WEBB

Starting March 8, nurses at Tenet Healthcare Corp.’s Alvarado Hospital Medical Center in La Mesa will receive an 8 percent pay raise, no longer work mandatory overtime, and be eligible for a new defined pension plan.

That comes after a March 1 vote by Alvarado nurses to join the California Nurses Association, which also represents 1,150 nurses at seven other Tenet hospitals.

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The union also represents 725 registered nurses at Palomar Pomerado Health, and 1,250 nurses at the UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest and Thornton Hospital in La Jolla, and about 260 nurses at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas.

In last week’s vote, 152 of 225 nurses, or 68 percent, voted in favor of unionization.

Tenet spokesman David Langness said the hospital chain expected the result.

A Tenet-CNA agreement signed in December provided for fair and expedited elections.

“Since we signed a global agreement with all the nurses unions in California, we have had ongoing negotiations at all of our 36 California hospitals and this is just another one,” Langness explained.

The contract calls for an immediate 8 percent pay increase and up to 22 percent over the next three years, he said.

Neither Langness nor CNA could give a pay range for nurses.

Charles Idelson, a spokesman for CNA, however pointed out besides higher pay, Alvarado nurses also voted to unionize because they want a say in patient care issues, better working conditions and safety practices, and be sure that the new nurse-to-patient ratios will be enforced.

Madeline Cohen, a registered nurse at the Same Day Surgery Unit at Alvarado, applauded the move.

“The overwhelming CNA victory opens the door for Alvarado nurses to actively participate in decisions affecting our profession,” said Cohen.

Darlen Wetton, chief nursing officer at Alvarado, has a contrasting view.

“I’d like to be able to work directly with the nurses staff and this puts a third unit between management and the nurses,” Wetton said.

But Idelson said having a union contract is especially good for nurses given Tenet’s legal and financial woes.

Tenet, which is the nation’s second largest publicly traded hospital chain, said in January that it will sell 27 hospitals, including 19 in California, to save $1.4 billion. None are in San Diego.

The Santa Barbara-based company has been accused of fraud and other misconduct by various federal and state agencies, including alleged illegal kickbacks at Alvarado Medical Center.

Alvarado’s chief executive officer Barry Weinbaum, who was indicted last June on charges of offering and paying illegal remuneration and conspiring to violate the federal anti-kickback statute, is expected to go to court in October, Langness said.

Tenet has denied the allegations.

Given these circumstances, the union contract is especially reassuring, Idelson said.

“It sends a strong message to the community, because registered nurses represented by CNA will have a strong voice for addressing patient safety, which will dramatically enhance the hospital,” he said.

Langness said the contract also protects Tenet.

“It’s beneficial for us, because there won’t be any more strikes,” Langness said.

The contract precludes any labor actions and locks covered nurses’ raises and benefits for seven years, he said.

Local bargaining will continue for the next several weeks.

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