Registered nurses at University of California hospitals and student health centers have ratified a new collective bargaining agreement that protects existing standards for nurses at a time when many public-sector employees are scaling back benefits.

The 26-month agreement between UC management and the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United took effect Friday and extends through June 30, 2013. It covers more than 11,000 nurses statewide, including 2,000 at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

Pay increases will average at least 11 percent over the life of the contract. Senior nurses won an extra step to the salary scale, a big plus for those who have been frozen out of pay raises because they are at the top of the scale.

Other highlights include assurances that registered nurses can take meal and rest breaks during shifts and stronger contract provisions that allow nurses elected by their peers to address patient safety issues with managers.

This is the first multi-year agreement since 2002. Disputes and short-term fixes have prompted almost continuous collective bargaining for almost a decade.

One of the reasons for the stand-off was UC reluctance to provide guarantees about future health premiums, according to Shirley Toy, a registered nurse and member of the bargaining team at UC Davis. This time, the union won a limit on out-of-pocket employee costs related to health insurance and a complicated formula that ties the increase to nurses’ pay hike. UC also promised to pay half the increased costs, Toy said. …

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