Contra Costa nurses ‘celebrate’ new contract

After protracted negotiations that led to a strike last month, Contra Costa County nurses have reached a tentative agreement on a labor contract with the county, California Nurses Association officials announced today.

The new contract would introduce wage increases, protect benefits and prevent mandatory overtime, according to the association. The nurses will vote this week to potentially ratify the agreement, which would run through 2017.

Union officials consider the agreement a “major breakthrough” after 15 months of negotiations, which started when the previous contract expired.

County nurses participated in a two-day walkout and packed a Board of Supervisors meeting on Oct. 6 in hopes of hurrying along those negotiations and to ask for a favorable contract.

The nurses implored supervisors during a raucous public comment session that day to help stop county hospitals from “bleeding nurses,” as many left to pursue higher-paying private sector work. More than 100 nurses left in the past year, union officials said.

The county’s answer was a proposed 16 percent wage increase in the tentative agreement, which also features what union officials called an “industry-standard wage scale” that they believe will aid in retention.

Kathy Avila, a Contra Costa Regional Medical Center nurse, said in a statement:

“We are pleased that the county has listened. … We feel that this agreement will help us retain the experienced nurses that our patients deserve.”

The tentative agreement also includes no reductions in health care and retirement benefits, which protesters voiced concerns about to supervisors, and a continued ban on mandatory overtime.

Liz Isenberg, another Contra Costa Regional Medical Center nurse, said in a statement:

“I am just so proud that county nurses stood together — gathering all of our courage — and we did not back down until (change) happened. … This is a moment to celebrate.”