Healthcare Business News

Calif. union nurses barred until weekend

By Ashok Selvam
Posted: December 27, 2012 - 3:15 pm ET

Some unionized San Francisco Bay Area nurses received an unwanted vacation following a one-day Christmas Eve strike, as three of the nine affected hospitals retained replacement nurses for five days to honor contracts with temporary staffing firms.

The unionized nurses, members of the California Nurses Association, were protesting proposed cuts to pay and benefits, including vacation days and health insurance. The earliest the CNA members could return to the three hospitals is Saturday. The union describes the action as a retaliatory lockout.

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Hospital officials claim the union painted them into a corner and that to ensure adequate staffing, they agreed to five-day contracts with replacement nurses that keep union nurses out for the duration of the contracts. The CNA called for a Monday strike at nine hospitals. Sutter Health owns seven of those facilities, which employ 3,000 union nurses. Replacements continue to work at Sutter Solano Medical Center, Vallejo, Calif. Nurses at the remaining six Sutter hospitals were allowed back at work after the strike. Each of the seven hospitals has a separate labor contract.

The remaining two hospitals with replacement nurses are in San Jose, Calif., and are both owned by for-profit HCA. The 1,500 union nurses from Good Samaritan Hospital and Regional Medical Center of San Jose won't return to work until Saturday and are covered by one labor deal. Jan. 9 is the next scheduled negotiating date between nurses and HCA officials. Officials from the HCA hospitals couldn't be reached for comment.

Lockouts are a sensitive topic in Northern California, as officials blamed the September 2011 death of a patient at Sutter's Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, Oakland, on a replacement nurse.

CNA spokeswoman Joanne Jung said Sutter is asking nurses for more than 100 concessions. She added that this is the eighth strike in 18 months of negotiations. The California Nurses Association is the flagship member of National Nurses United, the country's largest nurses union with 185,000 members.

“This is unprecedented, it's never happened before with the extent of takeaways across the board,” she said. “Sutter had taken full advantage of using the terminology of the time and exploited the decline of the economy.”

Meanwhile Sutter blasted the decision to call the strike on a holiday and said it was committed to safety.

“In past strikes, a large and growing number of our permanent nurses ignored the union's call to strike and came to work,” a Sutter spokesman said in a prepared statement.

Health insurance benefits for part-time nurses at Sutter's three East Bay area hospitals are a major bargaining issue, as Jung said Sutter's contract proposal would cut insurance coverage to children, partners and spouses—a number that could reach 1,800. Sutter counters that its benefits to full-time nurses continues to be strong, including up to 40 paid days off per year.

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