A ruling proposed in April by the California Public Employee Relations Board gives the California Nurses Association the right to strike if the University of California is determined not to bargain in good faith.
The proposed ruling also states that the UC must inform nurses how staffing is determined and bargain with the union on staffing ratios, said Beth Kean, director of the UC division of CNA. The association represents more than 10,000 UC registered nurses at UC medical centers and campuses statewide.
The Board was established by the state legislature in the mid-1970s to settle the collective bargaining laws covering public employees in California – including those of the UC, California State University and UC Hastings College of Law, said Les Chisholm, Board division chief, office of the general counsel.
In any case that goes to a hearing with the Board, the arguments from both parties are heard by an administrative law judge, Chisholm said. This judge, he explained, will issue a proposed decision with two possible outcomes.
“If neither party files exceptions or an appeal of the proposed decision, then it becomes final. It will be binding on the parties in this case, but will not serve as precedent for future cases,” Chisholm said.
“If either party files an appeal with the Board, then the proposed decision remains just that, a proposed decision,” he said.
“Then the board itself will issue a decision. In doing that they would have the authority to adopt the decision, or reverse it,” he said.
“CNA or the Regents [of the University of California] have the right to file exceptions,” Chisholm said.
“It is a proposed decision at this point, not a final decision of the board,” he said.
The laws, known as the Higher Education Reconciliation Act are within the initial and exclusive jurisdiction of the Board.
The state legislature wanted to have experts on the act handling the cases, rather than the Superior Courts, Chisholm said.
“The final decision of the board itself can be reviewed at the appellate courts,” he said. “In this particular case, we are not at that stage.”
Staff ratio issues raised strike discussions in 2005 but at that time the Board ruled against the right to strike.
“As a nurses union, it’s extremely important for us to understand how [UC] makes their staffing decisions; we want to make sure there are enough nurses in each unit to take care of the patients,” Kean said. “In bargaining, UC refused to give us that information.”
The proposed decision by Judge Donn Ginoza reads, “Pursuant to Government Code section 3563.3, it is hereby ordered that the Universityand its representatives shall cease and desist from:
“1) Refusing to bargain over negotiable subjects. 2) Refusing to provide information to CNA. 3) Interfering with the right of bargaining unit employees to participate in the activities of an employee organization of their own choosing.”
“We are very disappointed in the decision, as we think it fails to reinforce the joint duty that labor and management have to resolve disputes at the bargaining table and protect against conduct such as strikes that threaten public safety,” said UC spokesperson Nicole Savickas in an e-mail interview.
“We are in the process of reviewing the decision and it is very likely we will appeal,” she said.
The case originated from the 2005 planned strike brought about when the union claimed the university was not bargaining in good faith by refusing to negotiate staffing ratios, Kean said.
The UC worked with the Board to postpone the strike, claiming it illegal, Kean said.
“In April , the judge decided the nurses were right, and we had the right to strike based on the employer not bargaining in good faith,” she said.
Kean said the proposed right to strike is “not just a victory for UC nurses, but for all public sector employees in California.”
In an October 2007 press release, the University of California stated “even though UC was successful in restraining the union from striking in 2005, the strike threat alone cost the university medical centers a total of approximately $9 million in emergency arrangements (e.g., contracting for temporary additional staffing and other emergency operational provisions).”
Judge Ginoza’s proposed ruling would go into effect May 8; both parties have until then to file an appeal or exceptions.
ANNA OPALKA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org