SAN DIEGO — More than 300 nurses, health care professionals, clergy, students, union members and a lawmaker gathered last Thursday morning in solidarity with Sharp Healthcare nurses. Rallying in front of the San Diego Convention Center, the nurses drummed up community support for their attempts to improve worker retention in their workplace.
The nurses of UNAC/UHCP (affiliated with the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees [NUHHCE]/AFSCME) are currently in negotiations with Sharp; however, those conversations are breaking down. Sharp nurses say worker turnover is high because their pay is significantly lower — by $8/hr to $15/hr — than what their peers at other area hospitals make. In just the first nine months of this year Sharp lost 509 nurses, reported ABC 10 News. Nurses don’t stay too long at Sharp, leaving behind demoralized and overextended co-workers.
“A 19-year Sharp nurse only makes what a two-year Kaiser nurse gets across town,” said Jackie Young, RN with 16 years at Sharp Memorial. “New grads come here just long enough to get the experience to move on. A lot of experienced nurses are pinning all our hopes on this contract. We love our patients and we love our co-workers, but at a certain point you have to make some tough decisions and think about you and your family’s future.”
Even Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (District 80) was on deck to lend her support. “I have been through this fight three times now with UNAC. There is nothing more important in this campaign than to ensure long-term union security,” said Gonzalez. “Because if not, I’m going to be back out here in three years fighting the same fight.”
Sharp nurses aren’t rallying because their workplace is a bad environment — but because it is a good environment that could be great.
Says Jay O’Brien, RN, a seven-year employee of Sharp Memorial: “Sharp is a good place to work. We want it to stay a good place to work. All of us are really truly dedicated to Sharp.”
With profit margins at least double those of their largest local competitors, it makes sense for Sharp to invest in a plan to retain experienced, loyal employees.
“Everyone in San Diego sees the ads and infomercials for ‘The Sharp Experience,’” said Michelle Byers, RN, for Sharp Grossmont in the Cardiac Cath Lab. “We believe in Sharp’s ideals — but we wonder if Sharp’s executives do. Nurses know the reality at Sharp. We challenge Sharp executives to live up to Sharp’s own ideals.”