Five thousand nurses at Stanford Health Care and Stanford Children’s Health in California could lose their medical benefits because they went on strike on Monday.
Stanford responded to the labor action by informing employees that it would not pay its share of premiums for their employer-sponsored health insurance plans during the strike. According to Stanford, workers who want to keep their insurance coverage must pay premiums in full under the federal COBRA law.
Negotiations between the employer and the Nursing Recognition Committee, the union representing workers, began in January, with previous contracts expiring on 31 March. The parties have invited a federal mediator, and the next negotiating session is scheduled for Tuesday.
“We respect the legal right of our nurses to participate in the suspension of work, but are deeply disappointed that the union has chosen this path. The suspension of a union is a major event that undermines our patients, families and colleagues. The impact can be profound. Dale Beatty, Chief Nurse and Vice President of Patient Care at Stanford Health Care, and Jesús Cepero, Senior Vice President of Patient Care and Chief Nurse at Stanford Children’s Health, said in a statement.
Waiving an employer’s share of health insurance premiums when employees are not working, in an unpaid status, or not on approved leave is “standard practice,” Beatty and Cepero said. Hospitals hired nurses and reduced services and procedures during the strike.
The Committee for Nursing Achievement Recognition, or CRONA, has not set an end date for the strike.
“Strike has always been the last resort for CRONA nurses, but today we are ready to stand and make sacrifices for the transformative change that the nurse and our patients need.” – Colleen Borges, Union President and Pediatric Oncology Nurse at Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford at Palo Alto, according to a press release.
Employers need to balance by using their negotiating power without irreparably damaging their relationship with employees, said Colin Barnacle, labor partner at Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough law firm. The health benefits are a “pretty big bargaining chip” that can be used as leverage to dampen support for work stoppages, he said.
“This is an attempt to break down support for the strike,” Barnacle said. “I think it’s dangerous because you risk alienating your workforce quite a lot.”
The strike at Stanford is one of the few recent labor disputes in California hospitals.
More than 8,000 nurses and other healthcare workers at 15 Sutter Health facilities in California went on strike last week over concerns about staffing and health and safety standards. And the 2,000 members of the United Healthcare Workers West, who work at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, voted earlier this month to allow their negotiating teams to go on strike in May following a contract with a nonprofit hospital. ended March 31st.