Registered nurses at Methodist Hospital ratify historic first contract that sets nurses workplace protections in stone

LAST month, registered nurses at Methodist Hospital in Arcadia, California ratified their first-ever contract with the state’s largest nurses union to ensure fair and safe working conditions and transparency between nurses and administrative staff.

Methodist Hospital’s historic contract comes after nearly a year of bargaining between hospital administrators and the 650 registered nurses, the California Nurses Association (CNA)/National Nurses United (NNU) said in a release.

The nurses won the right to organize on Nov. 13. 2018 when they “overwhelmingly” voted in favor of joining the CNA/NNU and became the largest group of “non-union nurses in Southern California to join a union in at least five years,” according to the CNA/NNU.

The effort to unionize began with a small group of about five nurses who reached out to CNA/NNU more nurses to rally behind the common cause of ensuring quality patient care through safe workplace regulations and practices, according to Shelly Perks, a Filipina registered nurse at the Methodist Hospital ICU who was a key member in the year-long bargaining process.

Perks noted that hospital management had been ignoring the nurses’ demands for a more equitable, safe workplace, which resulted in many experienced nurses leaving the hospital.

“It really pushed the nurses to finally organize for the fact that management wasn’t listening to the nurses anymore when it comes to implementing plans that impact patient care. We didn’t have a voice anymore and we were losing skilled nurses and that significantly created an impact on how we deliver safe and quality patient care,” Perks told the Asian Journal in a phone interview.

“We had lost a lot of great mentors, and these were nurses who have been there for a long time who committed their time and effort in working for the hospital and mentoring new nurses,” Perks added.

Staff recruitment and retention were among the most pressing concerns for the Methodist Hospital nurses, but they also made sure, during the bargaining process, to implement safe workplace provisions.

One of those provisions included safe “floating” practices. Floating is a management technique that reassigns nurses to other units of the hospital floor. Managers will assign nurses to “float” to another unit in order to cover for an area of the hospital that may be understaffed.

While it can benefit a meager hospital staff, it may put a strain on many nurses who already work long hours in their assigned areas.

The Methodist Hospital nurses contract affirms that nurses are not assigned to units that exist outside their expertise and “need to have the competency to be able to work in units that may have the same competency requirements for nurses, and we wanted to stay true to that to maintain safe and quality patient care that all patients rightfully deserve,” Perks explained.

The agreement also established a Professional Performance Committee (PPC), a board of about eight elected leaders within the nursing pool designed to address issues like staffing and patient safety.

“We are so proud to welcome these 650 Methodist Hospital registered nurses to the California Nurses Association. We know that advocating for patient care is one of the core functions of nursing, and we know with union protections nurses feel safer speaking out on behalf of their patients,” Malinda Markowitz, a registered nurse and co-president of CNA/NNU.

For Perks, the contract is a huge win for nurses. She acknowledged that there “is always room for improvement” but that the nurses would not have “settled” on a contract if they didn’t receive all the provisions for which they asked.

But the win is also a win for the Filipino American community who famously have among the strongest nursing blocs in California.

Perks noted the overwhelming amount of Filipino nurses in, not just Methodist Hospital, but in hospitals around the country; so, this first contract is a personal accomplishment for her as well as a collective goal among her colleagues.

“Everywhere you look, you look forward, you look backward, you look sideways, you look at the schedules and you see Filipino names. It’s what we’re known for right? Tender, love and care,” Perks said with a laugh.

“And it’s not just about the contract,” she added. “We now have this voice to speak up for patient care and we’re able to have conversations with management regarding any kinds of procedures or implementations that will affect how we deliver care to our patients. You get these people at their most vulnerable, and they and their families trust you with their lives. The least we can do is give them the best care that we can.” 

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