Eastern Sierra Nurses Ramp Up Fight for Their Future and Community

When Northern Inyo Hospital was rebuilt several years ago in the Eastern Sierra, the hospital’s management promised to erect a new state-of-the art facility that the residents could be proud of—one that would attract top medical talent and expand needed healthcare services to this rural community.

But the nurses who worked there—the people who work closest with the patients and help keep the hospital running efficiently—initially got the short end of the stick. So the nurses organized and fought for their first-ever contract to make sure their voices were heard and that high-quality care remained a top priority at the facility.

Several years later, the nurses—our sisters and brothers from AFSCME Local 315—are organizing again to fight for a fair contract and sound the alarm so that history doesn’t repeat itself.

“Over the past three years, we believe the overall relationship between administration and the employees has improved somewhat, which has been a positive for this hospital and the community. But administration’s aggressive stance (on wages and benefits) threatens to dismantle all our progress,” said Heleen Welvaart, a nurse and Local 315 member. “The nurses bargaining team has made conscientious efforts to make fair, non-aggressive and reasonable opening proposals for this round of negotiations and cannot agree to proposals that move nurses backwards.”

Our Eastern Sierra members are facing an uphill battle so far as they try to win a contract that doesn’t have an impact on patient care or the hospital’s ability to recruit more skilled medical staff. The proposal from management so far indicates that the hospital wants to keep nurses’ salaries low and put further constraints on their benefits which, in the past, has forced many skilled nurses to find employment elsewhere.

Eva Judson, an obstetrics nurse with 20 years of experience, knows what could happen if nothing is done to reverse that trend.

“With the district’s latest proposal to eliminate steps and freeze wages, history could repeat itself,” Judson said. “A new nurse would do better to resign from the hospital and then come back to get rehired for a better wage. Does that make any sense?”

Over the coming weeks and months, the nurses are looking to continue to organize and drum up support in the community. They have already started speaking out at board meetings for the hospital and they will be returning to the bargaining table soon to try to find solutions that benefit everyone.