Registered nurses at Keck Hospital of USC and Norris Cancer Hospital rang in the New Year with a new three-year collective bargaining agreement, the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United announced.

The new pact, which expires at the end of April 2017, and covers 800 RNs, protects health coverage for their families, wins improvements in patient care and nurses standards, and provides for important economic gains. Nurses voted to accept the contract last Friday.

Safety gains include a safe patient handling policy that ensures nurses will not engage in complex lifts alone. Trained and designated staff will be available to assist with lifts at all times as well as increased resource nurses available to assist when patient admissions increase.

“Every year nurses and our coworkers suffer needless back injuries lifting patients without proper support,” said Gabriela Cruz, an outpatient surgery RN at USC. “With lift teams guaranteed in our contract, we are thrilled to look forward to a safer hospital for patients and a safer workplace for nurses.”

The RNs also won new language restricting the hospitals from preferential hiring of costly temporary RNs over regular full-time nurses. The provision is expected to improve the continuity of care to patients.

Other highlights of the contract Include:

· Increased paid education leave—RNs are required to take 30 hours of continuing education every two years. Paid education leave was increased to 24 hours for full time nurses and 12 hours for part time.

· Tuition reimbursement increased for RNs pursing a BSN—RNs with four or more years of service at USC will be reimbursed for 50 percent of their tuition and RNs with seven or more years will receive 75 percent of their tuition.

· Economic gains—RNs will continue to receive an across-the-board increase and step increase in July of each year and one additional in March 2017. The minimum increases are about $4.50 per hour at each step over the three-year term of the contract. Pay for nurses who are on-call is increased to $10.50.