Bay Area/ San Jose/ Community & Society
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Published on February 22, 2024
Santa Clara County Nurses Vote to Authorize Strike, Demand Better Pay and Safer ConditionsSource: Cristiano Tomás, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As tensions rise in Santa Clara County, the healthcare system braces for impact. The Registered Nurses Professional Association, representing 3,750 county nurses, is turning up the heat on county negotiators after a decisive vote to authorize a strike. The nurses, whose contract expired on Oct. 29, are demanding improvements from the county on pay, benefits, and, critically, on working conditions that they say have deteriorated sharply since the pandemic.

In a rally held at Valley Medical Center, these frontline workers made a stand—a call for action that echoes through the halls where they've served tirelessly. "97% of our members voted to authorize a strike if no agreement is reached," a statement from the union obtained by San Jose Inside revealed. A specter of looming strike hangs over as negotiations remain fraught, with the union accusing the county of negotiating "in bad faith."

The grievances run deep, as chronic understaffing and below-par nurse-to-patient ratios have become mainstays in the union's discussions with the county for months. Nurses report "dramatic increases" in workplace violence and a troubling upswing in mental health concerns among their ranks, as detailed by the RNPA's public statements. "77% of our county nurses say that they do not feel safe coming to work," a speaker highlighted at the rally, according to NBC Bay Area.

Moreover, the nurses argue their pay and benefits lag behind the competitive market, erecting a formidable barrier to recruiting and retention efforts. They contend that the county has not only ignored unsafe staffing ratios but also refused pay and benefit improvements that would bridge the current gulf in compensation. "Patient care and safety is our top priority," the county retorted in a statement to San José Spotlight, promising continued effort toward a fair and competitive contract.

Failure to redress these concerns could lead to worsening patient care standards. In a rally cry for solidarity, nurses like Susie York, president of the union, cast a stark warning to the county. "We’re out here showing strength in numbers, and showing our power, that if we had to strike we would," York told San José Spotlight. The county has yet to respond with an offer that meets the nurses' terms, prompting serious concerns that only direct action will spur meaningful change.