Thousands of Santa Clara County nurses walk off the job in 3-day strike

ByDustin Dorsey and Lena Howland KGO logo
Wednesday, April 3, 2024
Thousands of Santa Clara Co. nurses walk off the job in 3-day strike
Santa Clara County nurses from the Registered Nurses Professional Association are holding the first strike in the union's history.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Santa Clara County nurses from the Registered Nurses Professional Association here have been out on the picket lines since 4:59 a.m. Tuesday morning.

While they are looking for a raise, they're also fighting for better workplace conditions and staffing during their scheduled three-day strike.

"We want to be in there but we're desperate, the county's not working with us," registered nurse Jennifer Hughes said.

RNPA nurses are holding the first strike in the union's history.

Some tentative agreements have been made with Santa Clara County on key terms including workplace safety, but a sticking point is money.

The union is asking for a 15% wage increase through October 2025.

It rejected the latest county proposal of 13%.

MORE: 75,000 Kaiser union workers strike over staffing issues, wages

The biggest health care strike in U.S. history is now happening as 75,000 Kaiser Permanente workers are hitting the picket lines Wednesday morning.

"It wasn't because of the money, it was because of the working conditions and floating us to the other hospitals," RNPA Vice President Maybelline Que said.

Hughes, a psychiatric nurse with the county for 11 years, says along with better staffing she wants to see safety improvements like more security, alarms, and even metal detectors.

"We just would like more staffing, more [Patient Safety Organizations], security to help keep us safe," Hughes said.

And others want to limit floating positions, saying working at multiple facilities poses a safety risk.

"It's not safe for one nurse to be moved to another hospital and give care in those units because what happens is, we don't know the policy for that floor, and we won't be able to provide the care that we need to," Que said. "Also, in an emergency, we're in an unfamiliar environment, we don't know where all the supplies are."

Santa Clara County says the three-day strike may impact primary care and clinics, resulting in postponements.

"We remain open for the community because we know the services provided through the county health system are life-saving essential services and we are prioritizing ensuring that those life-saving essential services remain fully-available," Santa Clara Co. Executive James Williams said.

MORE: Kaiser Permanente reaches tentative deal with union workers after largest-ever US health care strike

But the county says it will spend $20 million to keep essential services running with temporary staff during the strike.

"That's really disheartening because that could have been money that they gave to their own nurses who care and love the patient population that we take care of and instead of doing that, they chose to use the travelers to cover for the nurses who are out on strike," Que said.

The strike is only three days, but a contract deal is not close.

There's been no negotiating since RNPA rejected a mediator proposal.

Wages and protections against moving nurses to other units in the case of shortages are still major issues.

Williams hopes to reach a deal soon, the strike has cost the county $20 million to replace picketing nurses.

"That's money that we then don't have as a system," Williams said. "We're facing a $250 million structural deficit as a county organization. In a matter of weeks I'll be bringing forward a recommended budget that's going to reflect cuts across our county organization."

Ensuring a fair and sustainable deal is a must for the county to prevent more cuts going forward.

The strike is set to end by 6:59 a.m. on Friday, April 5.

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