Another nurse strike took place on July 3rd at seven Sutter Health Hospitals in the San Francisco Bay area. The San Francisco Chronicle (6/2/12) covered the day-long strike as well as the issues leading up to it. Although the Nurses Union and Sutter have been negotiating a new contract for more than a year, they have not yet reached an agreement over sick leave, overtime and health benefits.
When such nursing strikes happen, nurse replacements are needed to ensure consistent, quality patient care at the hospital(s) affected by the strike. For instance, Tanya (not her real name) was flown to Long Beach, California from Alabama last year when nurses went on a day strike at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and Miller Children's Hospital, for an "erosion of quality of care and cuts to patient protections," according to the National Nurses United.
Those nurses were then told that they would be locked out of their jobs for four days because replacements had to be hired in a five-day block, according to a CNN news report (12/22/11). Enter Tanya, and hundreds of other nurses.
This past April, she was flown to Vallejo, ostensibly to cover the striking nurses for one week. Tanya says her pay rate is $50 per hour, eight hours per day, with no overtime. But overtime violations appear to be rampant: when it comes to covering nurses who work overtime, it is reasonable to assume that overtime would accrue…
“We often work 60 hour weeks and find out when we arrive, the agency informs us that our rate of pay is only $45 per hour,” says Tanya, adding that this happens frequently. “As well, I arrived on Saturday, April 28th and was told my last day of work was the following Saturday. But I didn’t start work until Monday, so they didn’t pay the first two days. This time—the first few days-- is often spent for hospital orientation but we don’t get paid if we have worked at that hospital in the past. We also signed a meal waiver upon arrival.”
Tanya says that the agency recruits nurses nationwide to cover nurses that strike. “They call us scabs but I do this because we get paid a lot more than our regular rate of pay,” says Tanya, who has now filed a nurses’ overtime complaint.
“I cover nurses who go on strike a few times each year, sometimes up to 13 weeks at a time, so I work these travel contracts about 30 weeks a year or more in this position,” Tanya explains. “Typically, thousands of people are involved in a strike and usually a few hundred nurses are sent to one hospital. Other hospitals may need up to three thousand RNs to cover their nurses who have gone out on strike action.
"I have been covering nurses—who are mainly striking for overtime violations—since 2005 and most of the time we are lied to. We are told our rate of pay is $60, but it turns out to be $50. Or like my last job—we are told $50 and wind up with $45 per hour.
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"We have never been paid 1.5 times after 40 hours. Instead I have often received an extra check for $250 and the last strike I covered in April, they sent the same amount--$250. I think they started sending us these checks because enough nurses—us scabs--complained about not getting overtime. But this amount isn’t nearly enough to cover 20 hours of overtime compensation per week.”
Tanya knows that, given what she does, her complaint will aggravate a lot of nurses who are striking for overtime. But at the same time, everyone must realize that patient safety is first and foremost—nurses must be replaced. In this regard, Tanya believes that everyone has the right to a fair wage, and that includes overtime when overtime is due.