Nurses still waiting for CPMC to fully embrace San Francisco

City and CPMC announced the hospital deal with week.
Mike Koozmin/SF Newspaper Co.

Labor and community activists cheered this week's news of a much-improved deal between the city and California Pacific Medical Center to build two new hospitals in San Francisco, and there are hopeful signs that frosty local relations with this sometimes-stubborn corporate behemoth may improve. But they also say they are withholding full support for the deal until CPMC reaches a contract agreement with the California Nurses Association.

CPMC and its parent, Sutter Health, have had a nasty running battle with CNA over the six years since their last contract expired that has included strikes, lockouts, lawsuits, harsh union-busting tactics, and the pooling of bad blood on both sides. But CPMC announced a labor agreement with its other major union, National Union of Healthcare Workers, on the day after the hospital deal was announced and there are signs that a deal with CNA could also be imminent.

“We've made some progress and we have the makings of a settlement on the table, but we're not there yet. Yet now is the time,” Fernando Losada, CNA's collective bargaining director for California.

It was CNA and other labor groups that effectively partnered with community organizations and progressive members of the Board of Supervisors last year to kill the hospital deal that CPMC cut with the Mayor's Office and to force the much-improved agreement that was announced on Tuesday. “It's all about necessity and their being able to implement their plans,” Losada said of CPMC's designs on San Francisco. “Obviously, the full of implementation of their plans were thwarted with the help of some good community organizing.”

And Losada said he expects that labor-community coalition to stand firm on expecting CPMC to reach a fair agreement with the nurses, who are seeking more job security and benefit concessions than CPMC has been willing to make so far.

“The successful community organizing that we played an active role in putting together has had a lot to do with them being more forthcoming at the bargaining table,” Losada said. “We like where this has ended up, particularly on the St. Luke's [Hospital] issue [guaranteeing a larger and more viable new hospital than originally proposed]. But we can't support this wholeheartedly and we won't if our nurses are left out in the cold.”

Gordon Mar of San Franciscans for Healthcare, Housing, Jobs, and Justice, which formed up around the CPMC negotiations with the city, said that most community groups will also insist on CPMC reaching an agreement with CNA before the project moves forward.

“A contract for CNA is the last remaining big issue the coalition would like to see resolved,” Mar, who also works with the labor group Jobs With Justice, told us. “We at Jobs With Justice would not support the deal unless the CNA dispute is resolved.”

Paul Kumar, a consultant with NUHW who represented the coalition during the negotiations between CPMC and the city, as represented mostly by Sups. David Campos, David Chiu, and Mark Farrell, said he was happy to see CPMC reach agreements with the city and NUHW, but that it's too soon to conclude the corporate has turned over a new leaf.

“I think it's premature because relationships take a long time to transform themselves, but there are transformative moments, and it's our duty to make the best of them. This may be one of them,” Kumar told us. “They're obviously now trying to pursue their business interests in alignment with their community instead of without regard to their community, which has characterized their behavior in the past.”

Kumar said the coalition that overcame last year's aggressive and uncompromising effort by CPMC to push through a deal that was bad for the city has learned a lot from that fight and evened out the playing field. “It's up to us to try to build on their breakthrough,” Kumar said.

CPMC spokesperson Dean Fryer was unable to put the Guardian on contact with Sutter officials that our sources say may be responsible for the softening of CPMC's tough negotiating stance in San Francisco, or to offer a comment on the changing dynamics in the company.

He stressed that CPMC has “a lot of interface with various communities in San Francisco” and said the company “does more charity care than anyone in San Francisco.” But he's only been with CPMC for a few months and was unaware of studies last year showing CPMC actually does the least per-capita charity care of any hospital in San Francisco, a major point of controversy that resulted in improved charity care commitments in the latest agreement.

As for the prospects of an agreement with its nurses, “I can't address CNA, that has been ongoing and it's something I can't comment on.”

NUHW – which represents medical technicians, administrative staff, and hospital workers other than nurses and doctors – announced that it reached a deal with CPMC at 12:30am on Tuesday that includes no labor concessions, retroactive wage increases, job security provisions, fully employer-paid health coverage, an improved pension, and maintenance of retiree health coverage.

Losada said he was happy to see the CPMC agreement with the city include strong local hiring requirements for construction workers, a predominantly male workforce, and now it's time for CPMC to do right by its nurses, “an overwhelmingly female workforce.”

“As it stands, they have no protections and no guarantees they'll be hired in the new facilities,” he said, noting how frustrating it's been to get any assurances from CPMC as it has pursued this hospital deal over many years. “It's always been about issues of job security, and affordable health care, ironically.”