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Stanford Nurses Approve New Contracts, Ending Weeklong Strike

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A group of people stand with picket signs that say 'Stanford Health Care, can you hear us"
Nurses at Stanford Health Care and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital on the picket line on April 25, 2022, the first day of their weeklong strike.  (Courtesy of the Committee for Recognition of Nursing Achievement)

Nearly 5,000 striking nurses at Stanford and Lucile Packard Children’s hospitals plan to return to work Tuesday after overwhelmingly approving new three-year contracts.

The new agreements, which cover nurses at both hospitals, include yearly wage increases of 7% this year and 5% for each of the following two years, along with more generous retirement benefits and additional vacation time.

In an effort to address severe staffing shortages and high rates of burnout in the profession, the contracts also offer better access to mental health support and new pay incentives for recruiting and retaining nurses in hard-to-staff sectors, like critical care.

"We are very proud of the advances we have made with these contracts," Colleen Borges, president of the Committee for Recognition of Nursing Achievement (CRONA), the union representing nurses, told reporters Monday. "They addressed the goals we set out at the outset of negotiations, and we hope will lead the way to improve nursing as an overall profession."

Nurses went on strike last Monday, April 25, in an action that more than 90% of the union's rank-and-file supported after their previous contracts expired in March. Union officials argued that the two hospitals were not adequately reinvesting in staffing, even after receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in federal pandemic relief funding. Revenue for the two hospitals grew 16%, to a combined $8.3 billion, according to Stanford Health Care's financial disclosure for the 2021 fiscal year.

Kathy Stormberg, CRONA's vice president, said management finally got the message that the nursing profession needs to be more sustainable and appealing.

"Amid a nationwide shortage of nurses driven by high levels of burnout, moral injury, exhaustion and trauma, hospitals need to step up their support for the nursing profession," she told reporters on Monday. "Creating better and safer working conditions for nurses is directly connected to ensuring the best care conditions for the patients who are in our charge."

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A 2021 UCSF study estimated a shortage of more than 40,000 full-time registered nurses in California, part of what it identified as a longer-term trend that has been accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, a survey conducted by CRONA in November found that 45% of Stanford nurses had considered leaving their jobs due to a lack of resources, training and support staff.

Kimberley Reed, a union representative who has worked for roughly 18 years as a nurse in Stanford Hospital's cardiac intensive care unit, said many nurses simply have been pushed to the brink.

"There's been high turnover, an increased amount of overtime that we're using, decreased resources available to us," she said. "And there's really no time for us to rest and recharge. All of this is not sustainable."

Reed said she's particularly encouraged that the new contract includes better mental health support and pay incentives for nurses working with severely ill patients in emergency departments, intensive care units and critical care transport teams.

"The reason that is so important is because it's been really, really hard for the institution to be able to get nurses in those areas," she said. "So this incentive program will hopefully retain the nurses who have been here through the pandemic. And it will also incentivize experienced nurses who want to come to Stanford to work in those areas."

Pressure mounted against hospital management heading into the strike, with nurses receiving strong support from elected officials across the Peninsula and South Bay. U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla also visited the picket line Friday, calling nurses "real-life superheroes."

In a statement, Stanford said it was pleased to reach a deal that reflects "shared priorities and enhances existing benefits supporting our nurses’ health, well-being, and ongoing professional development."

CRONA officials agreed Monday that both sides had shared goals, but suggested that they approached the negotiations in notably different ways.

"Sticking points really had to do with sort of a philosophical difference in how we approach things," Stormberg said. "It wasn't so much that there was a specific issue, rather that it was a complete package of changes that we were working on."

This story includes reporting from KQED's Sara Hossaini and Eli Walsh of Bay City News.

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