Sharp Healthcare to meet with nurses union Friday in hopes of avoiding strike

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SAN DIEGO  — Sharp Healthcare nurses and their employer are expected to meet Friday in hopes of reaching an agreement ahead of a planned three-day strike spurred by alleged labor law violations, low pay and an uptick in employee turnover.

Nurses at Sharp Healthcare facilities in San Diego County plan to walk picket lines starting at 7 a.m. Monday and intend to return to work on Dec. 1. The Sharp Professional Nurses Network delivered a required 10-day notice to the hospital chain’s management a week after 98 percent of around 2,200 Sharp nurses who cast ballots rejected the company’s latest bargaining offer.

Sharp officials said they had “offered numerous concessions and enhancements to previous proposals,” which included changes in compensation and union representative access to hospitals, among other things.

Sharp previously offered to hike base pay by 16 to 26 percent over a three-year period, with nearly half implemented in the first year, according to the company. However, Sharp nurses said that was not entirely accurate.

“Only a quarter of the nurses could get that raise, at most. It’s subject to management favoritism,” union President Christina Magnusen said. “Some nurses could actually see pay cuts under that proposal. And raises gained one year could be taken away the next. Clearly, it’s not going to recruit and retain strong nurses.”

Union members also contend that pay discrepancies between Sharp and comparable health care systems in San Diego have increased the employee turnover rate.

According to Sharp, a report from the California Hospital Association found that the chain’s 2015 full- and part-time nursing turnover rate was 8.4 percent, the lowest in San Diego County — and that this year’s numbers were about the same.

Union members will call off the looming strike if Sharp agrees to a counteroffer in which new nurses would be required to pay union dues, and those who do not would be fired. If accepted, the counterproposal would lead to a withdrawal of the strike notice as union representatives and their employer “continue to meet and bargain over all remaining open issues.”

Dan Gross, Sharp executive vice president, said his organization was “extremely disappointed that the union took this position.”

“Clearly, the union’s desire for a closed shop and the money it would net outweighs their commitment to assuring the nurses they represent do not experience the economic loss that accompanies a strike and the potential impact a strike can have on their patients and the community,” Gross said.

According to a company statement, Sharp remains “committed to individual choice for its nurses when it comes to paying dues.’

Sharp executives said they have contracted with a firm to provide trained nurses during any walkout.