SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The union representing nurses at Sharp Healthcare announced Thursday that its members voted overwhelmingly to reject the San Diego- based hospital chain's latest contract offer and to authorize a potential future strike.
According to the Sharp Professional Nurses Network, 98 percent of 2,203 nurses who cast ballots voted to authorize a strike.
The Sharp nurses contend that large wage increases are needed to prevent their colleagues from moving to other hospitals for better pay. A Sharp spokesman said the company has offered to hike base pay by 16 to 26 percent over a three-year period, with nearly half implemented in the first year.
The network, an affiliate of the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals, would have to give Sharp 10 days formal notice before a strike begins.
"We've spent months explaining to management why experienced nurses are a necessary part of patient care at Sharp,'' said Christina Magnusen, a registered nurse at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa.
"Unfortunately, management refuses to acknowledge how turnover is impacting the working conditions of the nurses who remain,'' Magnusen said. "While they claim turnover rates are lower than average, they miss the underlying point that Sharp is bleeding nurses and why it matters.''
According to the union, Sharp is on track to lose nearly 700 nurses this year, and has been trying to fill the gaps with hundreds of thousands of hours of overtime and double-time for current nurses and by adding traveling nurses to the schedule.
According to the union, its calculations show that Sharp has around 350 fewer nurses than needed, but could quickly reverse the shortage by paying competitive wages. Sharp registered nurses with five years of experience can move to competitors such as UC San Diego Health or Kaiser Permanente with hourly wages ranging from $8-$16 higher, according to the union.
The company issued a statement expressing disappointment in the strike authorization.
"Sharp is hopeful that both parties will come to a contract agreement before a strike notice is given or a strike commences,'' the statement said, noting that a meeting with the union is scheduled for Tuesday.
"To ensure quality patient care Sharp is making comprehensive plans to prepare for a strike, which includes securing qualified replacement nurses,'' according to the company. ``Sharp will be fully prepared to provide high-quality care to patients and family members if a nurse strike comes to fruition.''
In a previous statement, the company said its full- and part-time registered nurse turnover rate was lower than San Diego, Southern California and state averages, and its leaders were seeking ways to further reduce attrition.
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