The union representing registered nurses and other staff at three Hospital Corporation of America facilities in Southern California have reached a tentative agreement with the company aimed at improving COVID-19 safety and averting a possible strike.

The covered nurses and licensed medical professionals work at Riverside Community Hospital, Los Robles Regional Medical Center, and West Hills Hospital and Medical Center, according to the Service Employees International Union Local 121RN. The members are scheduled to vote to ratify the contract Tuesday and Wednesday.

The tentative agreement concluded 102 hours of negotiations since Dec. 11, after members voted to authorize a strike and a federal mediator was brought in to help resolve issues.

The registered nurses and other hospital staff sought improved staffing levels and a guarantee that in the event of a public health emergency, the hospitals will provide all PPE as required by laws and regulations.

They also won more testing, better quarantine policies and a guarantee to immediately sit down to discuss and bargain over the hospitals’ planned response within two weeks of a declared public health emergency.

The contract includes a commitment to hire dozens of RNs at each hospital so that staff can safely take rest and meal breaks.

“I’ve been on the bargaining team before, but this time it feels like we made history,” said Kerry Cavazos, a nurse at Riverside Community, and chapter president of the union at the hospital. “We were able to get some strong pandemic safety guarantees in our union contract. We may be one of the first health care unions in the country to get such strong language in our contract,” she said.

“This is a positive development for our colleagues, patients, fellow medical providers and the communities we serve. We appreciate community leaders who put the needs of the communities first over the past week and expressed concern regarding the planned strikes,” said Antonio Castelan, HCA Far West Division communications manager.

“Throughout the bargaining process, our hospitals continued to put the health and well-being of our colleagues and patients first, and we will continue to do so as we collectively battle the pandemic which is bringing so much pain to our communities. This agreement with the union, along with the new vaccines, provides reason for optimism among our friends, families and neighbors and helps stabilize our area’s healthcare system.”

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