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Nurse Power

The possibility of 200 DOMINICAN HOSPITAL nurses going on strike looms over next month. Currently, about 4,500 nurses from 25 Northern California hospitals, all run by parent company CATHOLIC HEALTHCARE WEST, are negotiating a new contract for nurses working at all CHW hospitals. The nurses say CHW won't provide them with the same benefits that every other social service profession has, while Dominican and CHW officials are sticking to their policy not to discuss contract negotiations with the media. Nurses are holding out until July 1, at which time they'll choose to strike or not to strike.

BARBARA WILLIAMS, a psychiatric emergency nurse and lead CALIFORNIA NURSES ASSOCIATION's bargainer for Dominican nurses, alleges that negotiations aren't moving forward because the company is trying to manage matters of which they shouldn't be in charge.

"They want to have total control over things that should be decided by nurses," says Williams. "We're the ones who can say what care a patient needs because we're the ones responsible for giving it."

Williams says CHW is unwilling to address the need for basic health-care protections, a pension plan and a lift-team to help transport patients throughout the hospital, citing a 2005 study that found that, nationwide, one-third of back injuries for nurses are caused by moving patients. Last week, Williams and a group of 35 nurses collected the signatures of 200 of their Dominican colleagues to show widespread support for these proposals. Hospital officials saw the signatures and presented a new contract to Williams and other negotiators. But Williams says the contract was an insult.

"The contract they presented used a lot of restrictive language," says Williams, "and was really a step backwards. It was convoluted and oppressive."

Due to company policy, Dominican communications and marketing director PENNY JACOBI would not comment on the allegations, but she says "we have a number of tentative agreements already and we're still negotiating."

CNA spokesperson LIZ JACOBS says that out of the 32 proposals presented, only five were accepted, and that the nurses' most important concerns weren't addressed. "We've stuck by these hospitals in hard times. And now there's just a real disrespect and belligerence at the bargaining table that nurses just don't understand."

CHW has yet to respond to this and last week's inquiries, with four negotiation dates scheduled for this week.

The nurses contend that they are getting paid 10 percent to 20 percent less than the market average, which is what nurses at Sutter Health and Kaiser Permanente make, and 15 percent less than nurses Salinas Memorial Hospital.

Dough Rolling

With AARP's local chapter closing because they wanted doctors to be paid a fair amount, Watsonville Hospital in danger of closing and nurses threatening to go on strike at NorCal-based CHW hospitals, Nüz can't resist a little financial disclosure to stir the pot. ... USA Today recently reported that LLOYD DEAN, the CEO of CHW, which controls 39 other hospitals, was paid $1 million in 2002 and $896,000 in other allowances and expense accounts. He also received $1.7 million to buy a new house, money he didn't have to pay back. And since 1998, several other CHW executives received money to make house payments, which they also didn't have to pay back.

Community Health Systems, the parent company of struggling Watsonville Community Hospital, controls 68 hospitals in 21 states; in 2001, their CEO made $11 million and their chief financial officer made $7.4 million.

Stoning W

By the time you read this, ballots for the Measure W vote on Felton's water system will be in the hands and trash cans of Felton residents. In a last-minute attempt to influence the vote, a few of the formerly faceless group of W opponents known as VIA (Valley Information Alliance) stepped forward to air their concerns in public.

Their grievances mostly concern (see www.valleyinfo.org) the structure of the proposed buyout, but VIA spokesperson MARY ANDERSON accuses county Supe MARK STONE of politicking against the spirit, if not the letter, of the BROWN ACT.

"Mark Stone coached FLOW [Friends of Locally Owned Water] to 'keep the emotions running high' in the community," alleges Anderson, "believing that emotions would trump facts and logic for the Felton community. He also appears to have violated the Brown Act with his dealings with FLOW. Witness the April 26 Board of Supervisors [BS] 'public hearing' in Felton. No discussion, just FLOW members talking. The BS conducted no discussion amongst themselves--it had already been done in apparent violation of the Brown Act, BS members looked uncomfortable as Mark Stone produced documents already drawn up. ... At the same meeting Mark Stone was overheard telling a FLOW follower that the County resolution would pass before the 'public hearing' started."

Anderson also claims Stone hadn't said boo about the Felton Library until protesters showed up at the April 26 meeting, then the next day he publicly blasted library chief ANNE TURNER for alleged Brown Act violations.

A Sentinel report indicates Stone was ahead of the curve, and began his Turner attack in writing on April 26 in a letter sent to Turner, City Manager DICK WILSON and other library board members. As of presstime, Stone was unavailable for comment.

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From the June 29-July 6, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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