One of healthcares biggest nurses unions squared off against more than a dozen California hospitals last week, the latest example of labors push to exercise its clout across the healthcare industry.
The two-day strike that the California Nurses Association staged kept registered nurses off the job at 15 northern California hospitals beginning Oct. 10. But how many of the 5,000 union nurses walked off the job is in dispute.
The strike came amid a strong ongoing push by unions to increase their membership in healthcare. The nations largest nurses unions, including the CNA, the Service Employees International Union and the United American Nurses, have unveiled plans to bolster their organizing efforts and political influence. The Silver Spring, Md.-based United American Nurses, representing more than 100,000 RNs, recently launched its first political action committee.
Organized labor has enjoyed greater success wooing healthcare workers than recruiting members in other industries. Federal labor data show unions triumphed in roughly 74% of healthcare elections in 2006 compared with a 59% success rate in other industries, according to a recent review by the Detroit-based IRI Consultants to Management. That success mirrored previous years and held true during the first six months of 2007, according to the report.
Roger King, a healthcare labor attorney with Jones Day, said limited strikes such as the walkout in California are increasingly common and extremely disruptive. You have to plan for a two-day strike as you would for one of indefinite duration, he said. Hospitals must line up replacements, field questions from patients, their families, doctors and other employees. Rising use of such tactics will force employers to become more innovative and more creative and more aggressive, frankly, he said.
Matthew Kane, a labor attorney with McGuireWoods in Los Angeles, said the nurses limited strike allowed hospitals ample time to prepare, and likely created little pressure to force management back to the bargaining table.
The two-day walkout by CNA rank-and-file occurred at two-hospital Fremont-Rideout Health Group, Yuba City, Calif., and 13 Sutter Health hospitals. Meanwhile, more than 600 Appalachian Regional Healthcare nurses represented by the Kentucky and West Virginia Nurses Association walked off the job Oct. 1 over stalled contract talks.
Jan Rodolfo, an RN at Sutters two-campus Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, argued the contract dispute hinged on health benefits for workers and retirees, and guarantees that Californias mandated nurse-to-patient ratio provisions would be incorporated into contracts.
The number of organized nurses who walked off the job in California was contested by hospital and union officials. Organized nurses by and large walked out at the 47-bed Novato (Calif.) Community Hospital, said spokeswoman Mary Strebig, on the strikes first day. In Burlingame, Calif., where Sutter owns 380-bed Mills-Peninsula Health Services, officials relied on more than 220 temporary RNs to meet demand after all but 10 union nurses walked out on the first day, said Debbie Goodin, the hospitals vice president of human resources.
At Fremont-Rideouts hospitals in Yuba City and Marysville, Calif., a significant number of union nurses turned up despite the strike, said Tresha Moreland, vice president of human resources for the system. It turns out were overstaffed today, she said, hours into the strike.