The University of California announced last Thursday that it has reached a temporary agreement with the California Nurses Association.

Negotiations on the labor contract for over 8,500 nurses UC-wide – about 10 of which work at UCSB’s Student Health – have been going on since April 2006, according to a UC press release. The talks have centered on four main topics: wages, health benefits, retiree health benefits and rest periods.

The UC and CNA agreed on market-competitive salaries with a pay raise between 5 and 9 percent, compensation for missed meal breaks and the continued inclusion of nurses in the UC health care program with the same benefits as other employees.

The terms of Thursday’s agreement will be in effect until a new contract is ratified in June 2007, with negotiations beginning in April. The parties will wait until the negotiation of the next contract to decide on the health benefits for retirees, the press release said.

Paul Schwartz, spokesman for the UC Office of the President, said the four issues the parties focused on in negotiations over the past seven months were discussed, and then tabled, last year during contract negotiations. A neutral negotiator was brought into the discussions after nurses protested outside each of the five UC medical centers last month. At that point UC and CNA were unable to reach an agreement.

“We were in negotiations with the union on the entire contract,” Schwartz said. “[We] could not reach a consensus on these four issues, so the University and the union decided to negotiate these issues this year.”

Liz Jacobs, a CNA communications employee, said the pay raise and health benefit negotiations were fair, but the real issue in contention was payment for missed meal breaks. Jacobs said some nurses work 12-hour shifts, which leaves them exhausted and sometimes inattentive. This, she said, can lead to poor health care delivery.

“It’s a real patient safety issue when a nurse cannot take a break for 12 hours,” Jacobs said. “Nurses do complex work, so you have to have nurses that are on their toes. At the end of the day a nurse wants to know that he or she has provided the best care they could.”

In June 2006, the UC filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the CNA for bad-faith bargaining. The UC Nurses website states CNA brought up previously settled staffing issues, which was not an agreed-upon topic of negotiation, and did not genuinely attempt to reach an agreement while bargaining. UC withdrew the complaint after the union ratified the agreement Thursday.

UCSB Student Health and nurses were unavailable for comment.