California law limits nurse-to-patient ratios, a benefit not only to nurses but to patients who get more attention from their nurses; in fact, a 2010 study suggested the law was saving lives. Now, California unions are battling each other over whether to let the law be relaxed.
On a call with other California labor leaders last Thursday, Dave Regan, president of SEIU's United Healthcare Workers West, called for unions to be neutral on proposed legislation that would suspend nursing ratios while nurses were on break. He cited the concern that while nurses' jobs would be protected, budget problems would then lead to layoffs of other hospital workers.
The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United has not responded positively to this suggestion, to say the least:
[CNA/NNU Executive Director RoseAnn] DeMoro countered that private hospitals made billions in profit last year, and a retreat on ratios would embolden management to come after other protections for workers and consumers. She said Regan’s comments caused “horror” among labor leaders, with one saying, “If you’re going to give away the ratios to help the corporations make more profits, why not just give up collective bargaining?” According to De Moro, every participant on the call, except for two from SEIU, voted to oppose weakening the ratios.This fight is broadening beyond staffing levels, though. As unions that organize the same CNA and SEIU have been in conflict in the past over organizing turf and over broader strategy issues, but for the past three years they've held to a peace agreement, with CNA as a condition of that not helping the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which split off from SEIU in 2009 and has been battling for members ever since. The question now, in addition to the fate of California's nurse-to-patients ratio law, is whether that agreement is disintegrating. RoseAnn DeMoro's comments certainly suggest that's the case.