Fremont nurses push back against Washington Hospital’s proposed staffing strategies, slashed benefits

Nurses at Washington Hospital hold an informational picket on Mowry Avenue in Fremont on the morning of Monday, Nov. 13. (Sonia Waraich - East Bay Echo)

FREMONT, Calif. — Nearly six months into contract negotiations, Fremont nurses say they are close to reaching a fair contract with the management of Washington Hospital Healthcare System, but there are two major sticking points: proposed cuts to their health care benefits and a proposal requiring nurses to cover different units in cases of unexpected staffing changes, known as “floating.”

More than 200 members of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United joined an informational picket in front of Washington Hospital on Monday morning, protesting the proposals that they said would triple their out-of-pocket health care expenses and require nurses to “float” to units where they might lack the proper training.

“Considering everything we’ve been through in the last couple years, putting ourselves and our families at risk to care for our patients … it’s really concerning the types of proposals that are being put forward,” Evie Merritt, a registered nurse and bargaining team member, told the East Bay Echo.

Merritt, who was among those at the picket, said that the nurses are concerned about how the floating proposal would impact patient safety and staff morale. The union wants patients to do well, get good care, and have nurses who feel comfortable and skilled in looking after the different types of patients they have. That’s why hospitals have different levels of care and specific units with different kinds of nurses, Merritt said.

A Washington Hospital spokesperson wrote in an email that the health system is committed to bargaining in good faith and respecting the union’s right to picket.

“We look forward to our next scheduled meeting tomorrow, November 14, and remain committed to working together to reach an agreement aligned with our patient first ethic,” the email stated.

A request for more information went unanswered.

Studies reveal that nurses find floating outside of their assigned unit disruptive and stressful, leading to potential job resignations and avoidable medical errors. Other research suggests ways to make the experience smoother, such as floating nurses to units where patients’ illnesses aren’t as severe, introducing floating nurses to the team and the unit’s routine, standardizing the workflow in similar units, and including bedside nurses in the process of crafting and reviewing floating policies.

Merritt said the union and management had made positive strides, reaching tentative agreements on important issues like workplace violence and safety, but slashing benefits and jeopardizing patient safety were nonstarters. Despite the current disagreements, Merritt expressed optimism about reaching a consensus.

“The hospital has priorities, the union has priorities,” Merritt said, “there are ways that we can meet in the middle.”

Negotiations between the union, representing over 800 nurses, and the hospital’s management began in May.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of nurses who participated in the picket.

Photo caption: Members of the union California Nurses Association/National Nurses United protest unsafe patient care plans and proposed cuts to their health care benefits in front of Washington Hospital in Fremont on the morning of Monday, Nov. 13. (Sonia Waraich – East Bay Echo)

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