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With a one-day strike temporarily averted, nurses and their employer will continue to “duke it out,” both in a California court and the court of public opinion

June 11th, 2010  |  Lucas Otto

Recently, a California superior court judge granted a Temporary Restraining Order that halted the June 10th strike of nearly 10,000 University of California medical center nurses. This action was in response to a complaint seeking injunctive relief that was sought by the Regents of the University of California, represented by the Public Employment Relations Board’s (PERB), who argued that, among other things, the very collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the parties included a “no-strike clause.” In the midst of all this legal wrangling, harsh criticism has been directed at each side by the other, and each seems to seek public support for their actions.

In response to the order preventing the strike, Beth Kean, Chief Negotiator for the California Nurses Association’s (CNA) UC Division claimed that “[o]ur number-one priority remains correcting the chronic staffing issues at University of California medical centers, which we have been unable to resolve through any other means…All the resources the University has wasted trying to silence the nurses will do nothing to solve the staffing crisis at UC hospitals, and nurses will not rest until their concerns are addressed.”

However, in its complaint, PERB contended that the CNA’s call for a one-day strike constituted a “prima facie violation of Government Code section 3571.1(c) and/or…section 3571(d)…and that the University…detail[s] substantial and irreparable injury if said work stoppage is not enjoined.” Beyond that argument, one could also surmise that nurses striking could mean less needed care for the very patients the CNA claims it was calling the strike to protect.

So who is right in this whole mess? On the one hand, if staffing conditions are really that bad, then what else can the CNA do but call a strike to symbolize their frustrations? However, if the CBA signed by the parties includes a no-strike clause, then the nurses and the CNA should abide by the contract terms they agreed to, right? Also, if staffing is a concern, and patients are the priority, then a strike would only serve to make that an even bigger issue, which is what their employer is arguing. Yet, this is also what the CNA want shown with a strike because it would highlight the need for more staff, and how important the staff is to the medical center.

This situation represents the classic employer-versus-employee-and-union problem that has been around ever since the first workers unionized to fight for their rights. It also highlights not only how the public can not only be used by both sides to try and advance their agenda, but also how, ultimately, it will be the public that suffers. Because, if more staff is truly needed and not hired, then patients/the public suffer(s), but if nurses, in mass, go on strike even for a day, then patients/the public suffer(s) as well. In this case, the judge required the CNA appear before the court on June 18, 2010 to show cause as to why a preliminary injunction should not be issued, so we may get at least a judicial clarification as to who is right, but there is not indication that even that ruling will solve the problems facing both parties.