California physicians plan November strike

Members of Valley Physicians Group are set to begin a multi-day strike in early November in Santa Clara (Calif.) County.

The union represents more than 450 physicians in the county's public health and hospital system, according to a VPG news release shared with Becker's.  

Union members issued a strike notice Oct. 19 after authorizing a walkout earlier in the month. VPG said that during negotiations, physicians agreed to a salary structure for their next contract and that only working condition issues, such as workloads and staffing, remain unresolved.

"We resolved the salary terms in our contract, but we are not willing to leave our patients behind," VPG chairman Stephen Harris, MD, said in a news release. "Our patient workloads and staffing levels hold a direct relationship to the quality of patient care we can provide. A strike is a last resort, but it is a stand we are ready to take for our patients. If we are forced to strike, it is because county management and leaders are coming up short on prioritizing patient care."

The strike notice comes after the union released survey findings Oct. 3 showing that 68 percent of surveyed members plan to leave county employment in the next three years. Physicians have also urged county leaders to improve working conditions and called for an adequate plan to address physician mental health and wellness. 

Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith, MD, told Becker's the county and union have agreed to a compensation package for physicians that totals $726 million over five years, including base wages. However, the union has rejected what he described as a generous offer from the county regarding operational issues. This offer included providing additional nursing staff as well as recommending the addition of four hours a week of additional salary to make up for time they may have to spend working at home.

Physicians "took the stance that in exchange for more money, they want to work less, and we can't agree to that," Dr. Smith said.

A strike may still be averted if both sides reach an agreement.

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