Nurses ask for city aid in hospital contract dispute

Registered nurse Monica Garcia prepares newborn Britany Garcia, from Hollister, for a breastfeeding instruction with her mother in 2014.

Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital nurses Monday made a coordinated effort—in the midst of contract negotiations with the separate health care district—to plead with Hollister officials about what they called “dangerous” staffing levels.
Since the consideration didn’t fall under the city’s jurisdiction—other elected trustees oversee the hospital—the lengthy discussion didn’t directly fall under the city’s domain as required by the council’s own agenda.
Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez as chairman of the proceeding, however, allowed the nurses and their supporters to speak during the public comment section of the regular meeting. After the speakers were finished and reached the maximum allowable 30 minutes on one public comment topic, Velazquez himself made a point to note that city officials didn’t have jurisdiction over the matter in question. That matter involves ongoing contract negotiations with the California Nurses Association, the healthcare district president confirmed.
“These decisions are made by the elected board of trustees at the hospital,” Velazquez acknowledged at the meeting.
As stated during each meeting and on each agenda, that public comment period of the meeting is restricted to discussions on topics absent from the agenda, but that do fall under the city’s jurisdiction.
The following day, when informed of the legal restrictions laid out on City of Hollister meeting agendas, Velazquez told the Free Lance he believed the nurses’ issue could be a matter of broader concern.
“This group is expressing their concerns about something that’s going on in the city at one of our facilities,” Velazquez said, referring to the health care district-owned hospital witin the city.
Velazquez added that the nurses’ situation could affect “the community as a whole.”
The mayor in the Free Lance interview said he would allow unions from the separately run county or school districts to speak about their concerns to the city council, too.
“If teachers came in and said there was a problem with our schools and wanted to speak on it,” Velazquez said he would allow them to.
Velazquez, up for reelection in November for a third, two-year term, has regularly stopped political opponent Keith Snow from speaking during public comment periods in council meetings over the past year or so. The mayor contended that with Snow, he interjects only when the speaker breaks meeting rules by what Velazquez called campaigning.
“I’ve never told Keith Snow he can’t speak,” Velazquez said. “The only time I’ve ever stopped Keith Snow during public comment is when he started talking about his campaign.”
As for the nurses, Velazquez pointed out that Monday was the first time he’d heard of the issue with the hospital district.
“When people come to speak at public comment, we don’t know what they’re speaking on,” he said.
The first speaker was Dr. Teresa Mack, the union representative whose organization oversees nurses’ contract negotiations throughout the region. She broached what she called “very serious patient safety concerns” in leading off the series of eight speakers largely arguing that the hospital is understaffed with nurses.
“They are bringing it to the city council and to you, Mr. Mayor, because so far their concerns have fallen on deaf ears,” Mack said Monday.
Tension ratcheted up even further when Daniel Dodge, a representative for Assemblyman Luis Alejo, spoke to the council. Dodge, a former Watsonville council member, contended to council members that the assemblyman and Karina Cervantez Alejo have “led the way” in their support of regional nurses. Alejo will term out come November and his wife, Cervantez Alejo, is running this year to succeed him.
Those mentions of the Alejos, both Democrats, upset Hollister Councilman Ray Friend, a registered Republican. Friend interjected during Dodge’s tak while arguing it was political speech.
“You didn’t fill out a card,” Friend said, referring to comment cards. “Sit down!”
At that point, Velazquez also told Dodge to “please keep it to the topic” of the nurses and referred to the speaker’s points as “quasi-political.”
Dodge, however, spoke back.
“I am very disappointed in the immature actions of Mr. Friend,” Dodge said, adding how he expected more. “We were trying to attempt to make a point. These are members of your community.”
Dodge went on: “I find it insulting as a community member to have to listen to that kind of rhetoric.”
Friend muttered something that wasn’t all that clear through the microphone, to which Dodge replied, “You’re going to throw me out of here?”
The tone calmed somewhat from there when nurses spoke about the situation.
Those nurses make up one of about a dozen unions at the hospital, said Gordon Machado, president of the board of directors.
Machado in an interview Tuesday said he couldn’t say much due to the contract talks, but he did express frustration because the hospital district’s own elected board is overseeing negotiations. Machado said those talks have been ongoing for more than six months on an expired contract. He responded to complaints about dangerous staffing levels by saying the hospital meets all standards as required by the state.
He also referred to those concerned hospital staff members as a “good group” of nurses.

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