District Council 57

Eastern Sierra Nurses Fight for First Union Contract

Nurses at Northern Inyo Hospital are fighting for their first union contract, calling on hospital administration to address staffing shortages at a time when health care is in high demand.

The Registered Nurses at the hospital voted to join with AFSCME Local 315 (Eastern Sierra) in 2015. But after 13 months of negotiations, the nurses have decided to step up the pressure on the hospital’s administration to settle a contract by holding a rally on May 2 to let the community know how dire the situation is.

“The contract negotiations could be over in two days if the Northern Inyo Hospital District would make this their single focus,” said Vickie LaBraque, a 29-year hospital worker who has been involved in the RN negotiations for months with our union. “Our goal is to negotiate a contract that respects and retains existing staff while being attractive to new nurses. A resolution of these negotiations will allow us to move into the future, truly working together as one team.”

The health care field is one of the fastest growing sectors in the U.S. economy. But in rural parts of California like in the Eastern Sierra, skilled nurses like the ones at Northern Inyo Hospital are being chased away by policies that create a revolving door of workers—and the nurses who have been there the longest have to take on the brunt of the work.

Nurses say the loss of workers at the hospital over the last two years is an example of how not settling a contract with the union has negatively impacted retention and the services the hospital provides to the community. Every nursing department has lost staff, they say, and the hospital is now relying heavily on traveling staff to fill the gaps.

The revolving door of hospital staff has created an enormous hardship on the few workers like Anneke Bishop, a labor and delivery nurse at Northern Inyo Hospital—not management—who have the skills to take care of a variety of patients but get stuck with the responsibility of training traveling nurses.

Hospitals often staff with traveling nurses or "travelers,” many of whom take the California RN Board Exam expressly to break nurse strikes or serve other short-term purposes before moving on to another state.

“We should do everything we can to retain the nurses that we have,” said Bishop, who has been working at the hospital for 11 years.

As contract bargaining takes place in areas like Inyo County, AFSCME is fighting to make agencies put more value in the front-line public workers who are now required to do more with less.

That means that policies leading to high RN turnover need to be addressed. Otherwise, those skilled workers are going to continue to opt for taking jobs at other workplaces, and the poorest among us continue to suffer the most.

“We have a lot of Registered Nurses who are committed to our community,” said nurse Chris Hanley. “We need a hospital that acts as a magnet to recruit new staff and retain the excellent staff we have.”

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