City’s contract nurses win fight for emergency sick leave benefits

After months of advocacy with their union and City Hall, hundreds of per diem nurses employed by the San Francisco...

After months of advocacy with their union and City Hall, hundreds of per diem nurses employed by the San Francisco Department of Public Health have won emergency sick leave benefits, nearly a year after the pandemic shut down The City.

Per diem nurses, commonly nicknamed “P103s” in reference to their human resources classifications, make up around 25% of the nurse workforce in San Francisco, and are placed everywhere from vaccination centers to hospitals. Due to their contract worker status, they don’t receive standard benefits such as vacation time or retirement contributions, but they are paid more per hour than their permanently-employed colleagues.

But when the pandemic hit, all nurses — regardless of their classification with the city’s Department of Human Resources — were stretched to their limit. In response to the needs of an exhausted workforce, Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Gordon Mar released an ordinance to grant permanent city employees up to 80 hours of additional paid sick leave, which they could use if they got COVID-19, or if they had to take care of family members. Due to their status as contract workers, P103 nurses didn’t qualify.

On Friday, after nearly a year of advocacy from nurses and their union, Mar and Breed released a supplement to their original local emergency order from April 2020. In it, they expanded the definition of who qualified for the emergency leave to “as needed employees” who don’t have a regular work schedule.

Tenley Spatz, a P103 nurse in San Francisco who led the charge to address this issue, spent months advocating for her colleagues. They were ultimately successful: In collaboration with other P103 nurses, her union, Service Employees International Union 1021, and Mar’s office, the leave was extended to contract nurses on Feb. 6.

“Hearing the news the mayor was amending her emergency proclamation to extend COVID leave to P103 nurses overwhelmed me with so many feelings I almost started to cry. I just couldn’t believe after all the hard work, we would finally be getting the sick time we deserved,” said Spatz.

“This victory was hard-fought and exhausting at times,” she added. “But it was the right thing to do, and there was no amount of ‘no’ that was acceptable to me. We were putting our lives at risk — same as the permanent nurses — and we all deserve to be protected during this unprecedented pandemic. I’m so appreciative of all the nurses that stood up, and I’m really grateful that the Department of Public Health was able to correct this injustice.”

SEIU 1021 argued that the inequity of the emergency sick leave policy endangered those nurses who didn’t qualify.

“When P103 nurses were initially denied the safety net of COVID-19 sick time, it was a danger to our patients and our whole workforce,” said Theresa Rutherford, a nurse assistant at Laguna Honda Hospital, and the vice president of SEIU 1021. “We know that COVID-19 doesn’t care whether it’s infecting a 2320 staff nurse or a P103 per diem nurse, and through our collective strength as union members we won a policy which reflects that fact.”

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