SEIU 1021

Nurses at SF public hospitals & community clinics vote by 99.5% to authorize a strike — then win tentative agreement within days


Registered nurses from across San Francisco Department of Public Health gathered at their union hall on May 17 to count ballots that asked members whether to allow their contract negotiations team to authorize the bargaining team to call a strike. The results: A 99.5% landslide in favor. 

That’s because SFDPH management had refused to take meaningful action to address chronic staffing undermining patient care.

“Our public hospitals and clinics are literally at a breaking point, and City management is acting as if it’s business as usual,” said SEIU 1021 SFGH RN Chapter President Heather Bollinger, who has been an RN in the emergency department at SF General Hospital for 16 years. “Our nurse-to-patient ratios are constantly out of compliance with state law. Wait times in our ER can be six to eight hours. Private hospitals are actively recruiting the nurses we’ve invested considerable time and resources into training – and when they can get hired quickly for higher pay and better working conditions, many of them accept those offers. This churn and burn feeds a vicious cycle of short staffing.”

Monday – just three days after announcing the overwhelming vote to strike, which was covered extensively by media and generated numerous calls from reporters to DPH management – the RN bargaining team was able to reach a tentative agreement with the City.  

“We have been desperate for resources to improve patient care and nurses working conditions for years – long before we went to the bargaining table in February,” said SEIU 1021 SF Community RN Chapter President Jennifer Esteen. “While it’s unfortunate that it took a landslide strike vote to get SFDPH management to take our issues seriously, we are pleased that we were finally able to reach an agreement that will make major strides in addressing our priorities of safe staffing, competitive wages for retention and recruitment, and reducing wasteful contracting out.”

SFDPH has claimed not to have a high RN vacancy rate – but leadership has based its budgeted beds on unrealistic numbers. The union has presented evidence of 16,000 missed breaks and over 1,400 “assignment despite objection” forms outlining unsafe conditions. Earlier this spring, the City sought budget authority for $55 million for travel nurses, which cost the City more than permanent employees and come with less commitment, experience with SF’s patient population, and often with less experience and qualifications.