“We did it, it’s a win, it’s a big win,” says Kerry Cavazos, a nurse and chapter president of the nurses union at at Riverside Community Hospital. Nurses there and two other Southern California hospitals reached a deal with the Hospital Corporation of America after marathon negotiations with federal mediators and averted a ten day, Christmas Eve strike.
“Having mixed emotions of that strike was so hard … the reason we would walk out was not over money, it was for your safety and my safety and our family and patients and we had to have that safety in that language to protect everybody,” says Cavazos adding this win was for every nurse on the front lines.
“Our priority is taking care of our colleagues to protect them through this incredible pandemic and I want to create a culture in which our nurses can thrive,” says Jackie Van Blaricum, the CEO of Riverside Community.
Van Blaricum and Annette Greenwood, the chief nursing officer were thrilled they reached an agreement.
“Oh just really sheer joy, I’m so grateful that the teams were able to come to a resolution and I really do believe that our community is better off because the deal was met,” says Greenwood adding that she’s proud of her staff of nurses who are superheroes.
SEIU Local 121 RN and the corporation that owns the hospital have been trying to negotiate the nurses contract for over six months. Among the things now in their contracts, pandemic protections for this and future outbreaks and the biggest win for them hiring more than 100 nurses.
“To provide us a break, that was huge, we haven’t gotten breaks in forever, 12 1/2 hours of walking the halls, no food, not going to the bathroom, running around, and not getting a break is just detrimental,” says Cavazos.
Staffing has been a challenge during this pandemic for all hospitals being crushed during this crisis.
Van Blaricum says they are moving forward by setting the standard, “I want to create a culture in which our nurses can thrive.”
“We know they’re going to support us and stand to that, that means a lot,” says Cavazos adding that she and the nurses now feel they can fight on knowing administrators have their backs.
Van Blaricum says the community should be proud of their nurses who have been working hard through the pandemic, but care deeply about their patients and called them heroes.
Cavazos says what they’ve been called to do during this pandemic is unlike anything she’s ever seen in her 32 years as a nurse and this latest tsunami of COVID patients is making conditions worse.
“It’s getting so scary, and when I come home, I feel like i just break down … it’s like the people that went off to Vietnam, I feel that’s what happens to us,” says Cavazos.
While Cavazos says this deal is a new beginning, “Nurses were applauding saying thank you, thank you for fighting and keeping at the bedside,” she thinks of her colleagues who are sick and the families of the two who died of COVID, “I can’t even imagine what they’re going through and I hope they get peace somehow through this.”
She says this agreement gives the nurses the strength and protection to continue to wage war against the virus, “We’re going to stay at the bedside, we’re going to stay fighting, because that’s what we do.”
Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez, who represents the Fourth District, who had been urging both sides to come to the table and reach an agreement when negotiations broke down, sent us a statement praising both sides and now urges the community to support the front line workers,“This agreement is very important for patients, health care workers and our county. In the face of overstressed hospitals and a mutating virus, we as a community need to step up to support the health care professionals and hospital system. The responsibility is on all of us to meet this moment and protect the front line workers who are stretched to their limits. We can and must stop the spread of COVID-19 by following the public health requirements.”