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Sutter Roseville nurses picket for 'fair contract'

Some 200 nurses rally outside Sutter Roseville Medical Center Thursday demanding higher wages, safe 'lift teams'
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Lauressa Ditson loves her job as a registered nurse. She just wants to be fairly compensated for what she does. Ditson works in the oncology department of Sutter Roseville Medical Center. She joined nearly 200 other picketers outside the center Thursday with a warning to management — attempts to keep wages below area standards will lead to a loss of quality caregivers and degrade services for local residents. “We’re advocating for our patients,” said Ditson, who serves on the California Nurses Association bargaining team. She said Sutter Roseville pays its nurses significantly less than other hospitals in the area, which limits the hospital’s ability to remain competitive and recruit new nurses. Ditson said Kaiser Permanente pays nurses an average of 24 percent more and Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital pays between 4 percent and 12 percent more. The Roseville nurses’ contract expired Thursday, after two extensions and 10 bargaining sessions without an agreement reached. “We want a fair and equitable contract,” Ditson said. “We’re an award-winning hospital. (But) we are the lowest paid nurses in the entire area.” But Sutter Roseville thinks its contract proposal is fair. “Right now we’re in challenging economic times, but we’re still offering a wage increase of 11 percent over the lifetime of the contract,” said Robin Montgomery, spokeswoman for Sutter Health Sacramento Sierra Region. Ditson said the contract only calls for a 9 percent increase. Currently, a full-time nurse with 10 years experience makes an average annual salary of $113,000, which excludes premium pay such as overtime and weekend shifts. Benefits include 36 days of paid time off a year and full health, dental and vision coverage. Nurses get a fully funded pension plan. The proposed contract includes a minimum 11 percent wage increase over a four-year term. The nurses would receive a 3 percent increase once the contract is ratified and then an increase of 1 or 2 percent every six months, Montgomery said. Under this contract, nurses maintain free health benefits and the pension plan. But nurses say the contract would allow Sutter to unilaterally modify benefits in the future without negotiating with the union. The picketing nurses also accuse the Sacramento-based Sutter Health Corporation of cutting corners while sending excess revenues to executives. Sutter Health’s overall profits more than tripled since 2008, to reach a 7.9 percent profit margin in 2009. Because Sutter Health is a nonprofit, the company must reinvest earnings into programs, services, facilities and local communities to retain its tax-exempt status. The Sutter Health Sacramento Sierra Region brought in $2.1 billion in revenue in 2009 and reinvested $172 million into the community. During Thursday’s protest, nurses also expressed concern over what they describe as the management’s refusal to prevent injuries to patients and nurses through the creation of safe lift teams. These teams help reduce workplace injuries and wear and tear on nurses’ bodies — and associated worker-compensation costs. “Our patients have gotten a little bigger and a lot of nurses get hurt, especially with back problems,” said Terry Stephens, a 20-year veteran nurse. “Lift team (programs) pay for themselves.” While Sutter Roseville doesn’t have lift teams, the site has the Safe Mobilization and Repositioning Technique, or SMART program. With this program, clinical staff is trained to do the repositioning themselves with the help of lift devices. Since the program was initiated in November of 2009, Sutter Health has seen related injuries go down 30 percent, Montgomery said. “One of the benefits of this is the patients always have a clinical professional helping them,” Montgomery said. “It provides a quick response to the patient so they don’t have to wait.” Labor and delivery nurse Andrea Seils said she’s wants lift teams used in conjunction with the SMART program. Seils, who serves on the union’s bargaining team, said the nurses were out in the heat picketing because they want a contract that better serves both nurses and patients. “This is a great facility and we love our patients,” Seils said. “But we should be in parity with other hospitals. Period.” Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com.