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Published on April 03, 2024
Santa Clara Valley Healthcare Scrambles to Maintain Services Amid Nurses' Strike Over Wage DisputeSource: County of Santa Clara

As the three-day strike by the Registered Nurses Professional Association (RNPA) unfolds, Santa Clara Valley Healthcare is battling to maintain critical services for its patients, services that are now caught in the crossfire of labor contract disputes. The strike, which kicked off at 4:59 a.m. Tuesday, April 2, is a show of force by the nurses who have yet to see eye to eye with county officials over wage increases and the matter of temporary staffing assignments.

Despite negotiations hitting a wall, the County has acted to minimize disruptions, some non-urgent appointments have been postponed, with affected patients directly contacted by providers, yet the full impact of the absence of these frontline healthcare workers is yet felt. "Our health system has been working tirelessly to ensure that patient care is minimally affected by the RNPA strike, especially access to emergency and critical care services,” County Executive James R. Williams told Santa Clara County News. He pressed for the union’s return to the negotiation table to secure a deal that balances fair compensation with the County's financial constraints.

Key to the standoff is the county’s approach to nurse staffing, in stark contrast to the standard "call off" methods used by other health systems, the County keeps all its coded nurses working, even when patient volumes are low, although it seeks the flexibility to temporarily shift staff where demand spikes - a proposal that ensures not only job stability for nurses but also optimal patient care and safety.

In a recent twist, after engaging in weeks of mediation, the rejection of a third-party mediator’s proposed 13.6% compounded increase to nurse base wages has thrown a wrench into proceedings with the RNPA opting to strike rather than accept the offer which included additional perks. “Healthcare professionals are part of the backbone of our safety net system and our nurses deserve fair and competitive compensation. That’s why the County has provided 30% to 42% wage increases for RNPA members since 2020,” Williams said, signaling that the offer on the table was already a stretch given the county's ongoing $250 million budget deficit - and yet, the nurses deemed it insufficient.

All the while, Santa Clara County maintains it provides one of the most competitive salary and benefits package for clinical nurses in the Bay Area, with the average RNPA-represented member earning an annual pay of $259,103 including overtime and differential pays, according to figures available on the county's website. The strike, scheduled to end at 6:59 a.m. on Friday, April 5, remains a point of tension with the health system and community holding its breath for a resolution.