San Bernardino Nurses “Blackmail” County Supervisors

Only one week after I was sworn in as the newest member of the Board of Supervisors, we were faced with a strike by 1,200 county nurses, demanding higher pay and work rule changes.

I’m all about protecting patients and ensuring our public employees have fair wages and good working conditions. But there is another group out there that I am determined to protect – the taxpayers who provide the money that funds all government operations. They deserve to be represented at the bargaining table and I will always be there for them.

Most things in life are about striking the right balance between competing interests. An accurate understanding of the facts is essential to finding the best solution to problems. So I researched the situation to find out whether the nurses union claims of being underpaid and overworked were based in fact.

Here’s what I found. The California Nurses Association contended that private hospitals nearby pay their nurses an average of 30 percent more than the county, thereby causing high turnover of experienced nurses, low morale and jeopardizing patient safety.

However, the fact is that the average RN II at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center makes more than the median salary of 21 Inland Empire hospitals surveyed, has over nine years of service, and receives much more generous benefits and retirement packages than those of private hospitals.

The turnover rate at Arrowhead is 5.75 percent, compared with a southern California average turnover rate of 9.5 percent, and the county has received 983 applications for nursing positions just since July 1 of this year.

The truth is that San Bernardino County nurses receive competitive wages, have good working conditions and far better benefits and retirement than their private sector counterparts. The sticking point in the over year long (so far) negotiations is the union’s rejection of the same reasonable terms already accepted by thousands of other county employees.

Restraining the spiraling cost of public employee pay and benefits is essential to maintaining the long term fiscal health of our county. We need look no farther than the city of San Bernardino to see what can happen when those costs get out of hand. My top priority is ensuring the long-term fiscal integrity of county government for the benefit of generations to come.

Bankruptcy is not an option for us. It would be bad for our employees, our patients – indeed, every single person we serve in this county. It would throw a monkey wrench into our economy and send a strong signal to private enterprise to invest somewhere else where the elected leaders can balance their checkbooks and run their government operations in a competent manner.

CNA resorted to the despicable action of abandoning hundreds of poor, mostly minority patients in a blackmail attempt called a “strike.” The Board of Supervisors was forced to spend over $4 million dollars to protect patients from not receiving essential medical care as the result of being deserted by their own nurses. That money was taken away from patients and taxpayers by a callous labor union focused only on lining their pockets.

I will never be blackmailed, and never forget that my first duty is to protect taxpayers and residents of the Fourth District and throughout San Bernardino County. The Board of Supervisors sent a clear message to the union leadership this month. It’s time to bargain in good faith, receive fair treatment from the county just like other county employees and join with the Board of Supervisors in always putting patient care first.

Curt Hagman is a  San Bernardino County Supervisor