Nurses Picket for Better Patient Conditions

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Loud speakers blasted Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” into a sea of nurses flooding the sidewalk at St. John’s Health Center on Tuesday, November 27, 2018, in Santa Monica, California. They held picket signs reading “Nurses are the heart of patient care” and “Nurses demand a fair contract now.” 

Disputes over salary, benefits and patient care practices prompted a one-day strike at St. John’s Health Center and the Little Company of Mary Medical Center in San Pedro, California. Both groups expressed similar issues and picketed in solidarity at their respective cities. This joint effort was coordinated with the help of the California Nursing Association.

Mary D’Esposito, a St. John’s Health Center new graduate nurse, expressed grievousness about a recent change in her salary. The contract she signed indicated that she would receive a pay raise upon completing one year of employment. She reached her year mark in April 2018 and received a nine dollar increase in June 2018. 

D’Esposito said, “About two weeks ago they just took it [pay raise] away. They have decided to not give about 60 other new grads the raises they’re eligible for.” She claims she was not given any explanation regarding her salary change. Many of the new graduate nurses are already approaching their two-year mark.

Jack Cline, a Medical Surgical Nurse at St. John’s Health Center, explained, “They’re offering us a small raise, but with an increase of insurance costs, and they want to take our vacation time away.” He continued to state that salary and benefits cuts do not allow for employment retention and St. John’s Health Center often loses nurses to UCLA Medical Center just a few blocks away. 

In a statement released by the California Nursing Association, Sudie Cunnane, who has been with St. John’s Health Center for 24 years, said, “We are being asked to do more with less, and we don’t have the tools we need to give our patients the best quality care. Management is turning a deaf ear to our concerns and we feel we have no choice but to strike.” 

What was supposed to be a “one-day strike to protest eroding patient care conditions” caused St. John’s Health Center to react with an unpaid five-day lock out. Some protesting nurses claimed the hospital made this decision as a scare tactic. Many nurses pointed to Providence Health and Services, who acquired St. John’s Health Center in 2014, as the biggest negotiation roadblock.

Cline said, “Providence is a big corporation that owns several hospitals all through the western part of the United States. They come and make all kinds of cuts. They cut our transportation. They cut our lift team. They cut all our support staff.” 

As organizations like Providence Health and Services scale they have the capability to make fiscal decisions that can impact the lives of both employee and consumer. 

Feeling ignored and unwanted D’Esposito said, “I think a lot of us feel very disheartened by our employer. They haven’t shown they want to invest in us. Now, we have the experience to get jobs somewhere else that want to pay their nurses appropriately, train us appropriately and respect us appropriately.”