Fresno County Nurses Consider Strike, Seek to Block Contract They Say Harms Nurses & County Patients

CALIFORNIA–(ENEWSPF)–January 9, 2012. The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United today announced it has asked the state Public Employees Relations Board to block a decision by Fresno County to impose a harsh new contract on county nurses – and county nurses are voting Tuesday and Wednesday whether to authorize nurse negotiators to call a possible strike.

In a split vote the Fresno County Board of Supervisors in November, acted to impose new terms and conditions on the county’s RNs. The county undertook this unilateral action after prematurely declaring impasse in contract talks between the nurses and the county.

The Board’s actions were so egregious, says CNA, that nurses have taken unusual step of filing for a preliminary injunction against the Board. PERB is the state agency that oversees labor issues involving public agencies.
Registered Nurses have provided written documentation on how the Board’s action will force many of them to choose between paying for healthcare coverage and making house payments.

After receiving an Unfair Labor Practice Charge from CNA, PERB agreed to mediate between the parties in an effort to resolve the dispute.  Yet Fresno County officials refused to return to the bargaining table despite the County’s earlier declarations that they are always willing to meet.

The nurses note that in the past few years, the number of public health registered nurses in Fresno County has already been slashed in half, more than any other county department. Under the imposed contract, major additional reductions are ordered, including cuts of up to one-fourth of the RNs’ compensation.

What makes the reductions even more deplorable, say the RNs, is that the health programs are funded almost entirely by state and federal grants with virtually no cost to the county.

Among the services provided by public health RNs are vaccinations, protective service programs for children in their first five years of life, efforts to reduce infant mortality, especially among African Americans, and children’s protective services.

“The message is clear. Fresno County is willing to abandon thousands of low income, vulnerable, and at risk families, especially women and children, who are the primary recipients of public health services,” says CNA Co-President DeAnn McEwen, RN. “Such cuts are not only unnecessary– they save almost no money now and will cost more in long term problems down the road.”

“With the ongoing economic crisis, growing numbers of families are falling through the cracks. Those who are most affected by these public health programs rarely have access to other services,” said McEwen. “The last thing our society should be doing is sacrificing our children and the most vulnerable and at risk among us.”