Everything I ever knew about strikes I learned from Newsies. From the spontaneous musical numbers to the violent fistfights, I’ve been preparing myself. That’s right, people. Stanford Nurses may be going on strike. I’m not officially a scab….yet. But I was led to believe otherwise by a staff nurse one night during change of shift. Maybe I was reading into it, but she kept referring to travel nurses as “scabs” and asked if I was thinking about taking a bonus from the hospital for working the strike, subtly implying that I would burn in hell for doing so. First off, none of your business, second, why would you call the people covering you while you strike a nasty name?? I’m making your strike possible, so how ‘bout you be a little more careful with your choice of words and tone of voice.
In Nursing School, strikes and unions were commonly discussed and debated. Even then, I was of two minds on the issue. On one hand, it seems to go against the spirit of the nursing profession to abandon the care of your patients because of your working conditions. Yet, most nurses are striking because (and this is the most important point) the health and wellness of your nursing staff determines the outcome of your patients.
Pay is almost always one of the reasons for a strike, but it is usually the smaller point among some much larger issues, such as high ratios of patients to nurses, required overtime and unrealistic staffing demands. In the long game, changing these factors makes for better and safer patient care. Temporarily leaving your assignment for the betterment of patients down the road seems like a noble cause to me.
You can read up on the whole strike here. There are some things that aren’t really clear in the article so I’ve been talking to a lot of the staff nurses, trying to get an understanding of what the big issues are. Don’t feel obligated to read it, I just thought it prudent to provide the source material for fact checking, etc. Luckily, we have several union board members that work on our floor so I’ve been able to get a clearer picture over the last week.
I’ll try to sum it up as best I can. Stanford Hospital (which includes Lucile Packard) is currently in the process of expanding to a much larger building, slated to open in 2017. As part of their expansion, they will be hiring a large number of nurses. However, CRONA (the union) wants Stanford to fix the current issues that are already causing nurses to leave Stanford in droves. Issues like:
Pay: Cost of living is so astronomically high in Palo Alto and surrounding areas that nurses have been leaving Stanford to go work for other bay area hospitals like UCSF and Kaiser, where pay is far more competitive. The union has proposed a pay raise that is, admittedly, very high over the next three years. In theory, this pay raise would catch Stanford nurses’ salaries up to the surrounding hospitals and make it possible for them to live closer to Stanford. Which brings me to the next point.
On call hours: I’m not positive how “on call” works for OR nurses, but from my understanding, it is required for nurses to be on call for a certain amount of time every week and within a certain distance from the hospital. At Stanford, on call requirements are 24 hours and you must be within 30 minutes from the hospital. Combine that with the high cost of living and that means you have nurses sleeping in their cars because they can’t afford to live or stay 30 minutes from the hospital for that long a period of time. CRONA wants Stanford to reduce on call hours to 12 hours per week to make this more manageable.
Flexible working hours: One of the most important issues, according to staff I’ve talked with, is flexibility of hours. At Stanford, RNs do not have the option of working decreased hours. You’re either Full Time or PRN. There is no in between. I think this might be different for outpatient, but I’m not positive. So, say a nurse has small children, wants to continue working inpatient, but would rather work one or two shifts a week instead of three. Not an option, so that nurse goes to PRN. That means staffing can call that nurse in for 8, 10 or 12 hour shifts as needed, when their available. That also means that nurses are constantly being shuffled around the hospital throughout the day based on needs and handoffs are being made multiple times to multiple different nurses. I was literally called in one day for FOUR HOURS. 3pm to 7pm. I received report at 3pm, did my assessment of my patients, gave a few meds, then turned around and gave report to the night shift nurse. In the hospital, nursing care is a 24 hour job, and each time the next shift comes on, you have to report the patient’s progress (or lack of progress), the plan of care and pass along any duties that you weren’t able to get done on your shift. If you split the shift up too much, the effect is like the game Telephone- information gets misinterpreted, or missed altogether and patient care suffers, as a result. By giving more senior nurses the option to work 24 or even 12 hours a week, they might be able to retain nurses and save money, not to mention provide safer care and require less support from travel nurses.
As a travel nurse who has already extended my contract, I’m not sure what this means for me. Some people have suggested I cancel my contract and sign on to work the strike so I can make more money. Admittedly, if I continue working for the same pay while the strike nurses are making significantly more, I will be pretty pissed. On the other hand, it just feels ethically wrong for me to break my contract like that. They need nurses that know the patients, the floor and how to give chemotherapy. I expect to have some sort of compensation, don’t get me wrong, but I would rather keep my contract and get compensated accordingly. What scares me is the idea of having to be one of the “experts” while they call in reinforcements to staff the hospital. I’m scared for the patients and, to be honest, I’m pissed at the hospital for letting it come to this.
In the end, I called my recruiter, A-Aron, and he shared some stories he heard from other nurses working at Stanford that made me realize just how awesome this unit is. Some nurses are telling travelers that they will lose their contract if they work the strike, and some managers are requiring their travelers to strike with them. Aaron assured me that a) I will not lose my contract and b) I will likely be compensated in some way. Regardless, the message I continue to receive from my unit is “you have to do what is right by you.” So kudos to the nurses of the Bass Center at LPCH for being so amazing. For those of you who plan on participating in the strike, I leave you with this: