Providence Nurses Accept New Contract

(Photo by Gavin J. Quinton / Burbank Leader) - Nurses at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, who picketed outside of the hospital in December, successfully negotiated a contract, ending the prospect of a strike.

First published in the Feb. 4 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

Nurses at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center successfully negotiated a contract renewal, ending the monthslong negotiation process, and closing the door on a potential strike. Through collective bargaining, nurses secured safety measures, retention benefits and greater representation in hospital governing committees.
Nurses who work at the Burbank hospital also received pay increases that union officials say will help retain quality nurses, on par with pay bumps at other Providence hospitals in the area.
“In addition to wage increases and contract enhancements that ensure our nurses continue to receive market competitive pay and benefits, the agreement includes key measures that will help retain our valued nurses and attract dedicated, compassionate caregivers to join the healing work of Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center,” said Patricia Aidem, a spokesperson for PSJMC.
Providence nurses picketed outside of the hospital in December to underscore their demands for more comprehensive patient and staff safety after several violent incidents took place on the hospital campus. At that time, the nurses with the Service Employees International Union’s 121RN chapter voted to authorize a strike if contract negotiations failed.
After more than 15 bargaining sessions, the nurses’ last sit-down with Providence leadership was on Jan. 19, at which point the contract was settled, according to Shamezo Lumukanda, a communications specialist with the SEIU.
“One of the goals in the negotiations was to retain nurses who start their careers with us. We want them to stay with us,” said Connor Palacio, an ICU steward who began with PSJMC in Burbank in 2017. “When you have a consistent nursing staff who feels more deeply connected to their hospital, they’re going to feel more embedded in the community, and they’re going to provide better patient care.”
Nurses who stay with PSJMC for five years will receive a retention bonus, Palacio reported, who sat at the bargaining table with other union leadership and hospital management.
More nurses will also be represented on the Labor and Safety Committee, the Patient Health and Safety Committee and the Patient Care Committee, as part of the contract agreement.
“Getting an extra nurse on those committees felt really important. Nurses have a hand in the shared governance of what affects our patients, and the whole hospital,” Palacio said.
Palacio told the Leader that only some of the safety concerns brought to management were negotiated into their contract and that nurses will continue to fight for patient and staff safety in the committees.
Ahead of their December picket, nurses contended that security lapses at the hospital had created an unsafe environment for the hospital staff that led to recent incidents of workplace violence.
Joyce Powell, who is also the president of the SEIU 121RN chapter, told the Leader in December that several guns and a knife had made it through hospital security. The hospital promised to hire additional security officials as part of the recent contract agreement.
Nurses argued that these concerns, coupled with what they said was the hospital’s failure to retain staff, had led to widespread burnout.
In January 2021, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Palacio worked more than 400 hours in 26 days. It’s a fact he’s proud of, though he acknowledged the burnout in nurses following such outbreaks of the deadly virus. This led to additional measures in the contract that allow nurses to work reduced hours for extended periods of time, as long as the hospital can support a break in staffing.
“Nurses tend to get burned out and they need the ability to take a little bit of a load off. Now, nurses can switch to part-time for up to 12 months. They’re still working, they’re still caring for patients, and then when they’re back on their feet, they can come back to their previous status of full-time work, hopefully feeling better than ever,” Palacio said.
“We are pleased our nurses voted this week to ratify a new three-year contract. Both bargaining teams worked hard to reach common ground on important issues and opportunities,” said Aidem.
“We’re grateful to both negotiating teams who collaborated on a contract that honors the excellence of the nurses in our ministry and our bright future together,” she added.
“We will continue to work hard over the next three years and, come next negotiation, we’re going to [try to] hold management [more] accountable, to do better and be better. And I hope that management continues to hold us and our members to be better and do better. By doing so we can do the best for our patients and our Burbank community,” Palacio said.