Five thousand nurses at Stanford Health Care and Stanford Children's Health in California face losing their health benefits for going on strike Monday.
Stanford responded to the labor action by informing employees that it will not pay premiums for their employer-sponsored health plans during the strike. Workers who wish to maintain their coverage must pay the full premiums via the federal COBRA law, according to Stanford.
Negotiations between the employer and the Committee for Recognition of Nursing Achievement, the union representing the workers, began in January and the previous contracts expired March 31. The parties have brought in a federal mediator and the next bargaining session is scheduled for Tuesday.
"We respect our nurses' legal right to take part in a work stoppage but are deeply disappointed that the union chose this path. A union work stoppage is a serious event that is disruptive to our patients, families and colleagues. The impact can be deep, long-lasting and costly," Dale Beatty, chief nurse executive and vice president of patient care services for Stanford Health Care, and Jesus Cepero, senior vice president of patient care and chief nursing officer for Stanford Children's Health, said in a statement.
Rescinding health insurance premiums when employees are not working, are on unpaid status or are not on approved leave is "standard practice," Beatty and Cepero said. The hospitals have hired replacement nurses and cut back on services and procedures during the strike.
The Committee for Recognition of Nursing Achievement, or CRONA, has not set an end date for the strike.
"A strike has always been the last resort for CRONA nurses, but we are prepared to stand strong and make sacrifices today for the transformative changes that the nursing profession and our patients need," Colleen Borges, the union president and a pediatric oncology nurse at Stanford's Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto, said in a news release.
Employers have to balance using their bargaining strength while not permanently damaging their relationships with workers, said Colin Barnacle, a labor partner at the law firm Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough. Health benefits are a "pretty significant bargaining chip" to use as leverage to weaken support for a work stoppage, he said.
"It's a move to break up support for a strike," Barnacle said. "It's dangerous, I think, because you do risk pretty significant alienation of your workforce."
The Stanford strike is among of a handful of recent labor disputes at California hospitals.
Last week, more than 8,000 nurses and other healthcare workers at 15 Sutter Health sites in California held a one-day strike over concerns about staffing levels and health and safety standards. And 2,000 members of Service Employees Union International-United Healthcare Workers West who work at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles voted earlier this month to allow their bargaining teams to call a strike in May after their contract with the not-for-profit hospital ended March 31.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Stanford fully covers premiums for employee health benefits.