More than 6,400 registered nurses are expected to strike next week at the University of Chicago Medical Center and eight hospitals in California to highlight what they say are their concerns about staffing and patient care. But hospital officials say the union is using patient care issues as a cover for striking over pay.
The nurses are a part of Oakland, Calif.-based National Nurses United and its affiliate, the California Nurses Association. The union says the one- or two-day strikes will occur April 30 and May 1.
A two-day strike is planned at the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center, and a one-day strike is planned for May 1 at Providence Health & Services hospitals in Santa Monica and Torrance. Scheduled strikes at the other facilities, including the University of Chicago and five Sutter Health facilities in northern California, are planned for April 30.
The Sutter facilities include Sutter Roseville Medical Center, Mills-Peninsula Health Services facilities in Burlingame and San Mateo, Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital, Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital, and Sutter Tracy Community Hospital. An informational picket also will take place on April 30 at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, a Sutter Health facility where 750 NNU nurses work. Sutter already has contracted with replacement nurses, a Sutter Health representative said.
“Across the country, nurses are unified in insisting that hospitals improve (registered nurse) staffing, which far too often is compromising patient safety and other patient protections,” NNU co-president Karen Higgins said in a written statement .
Striking nurses at the University of Chicago will be out of work for five days because the hospital had to commit to five days of work for replacement nurses, the university said. The university said it has been negotiating with NNU since August 2014.
“It is troubling that NNU would call a strike and take nurses away from their jobs and patients, particularly before the NNU and UCMC have finished negotiations,” Debra Albert, the hospital's senior vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer, said in a written statement. “UCMC didn't want a strike, and we have negotiated in good faith for many months.”
UCMC officials say negotiations with their nurses have focused mainly on wages, which the hospital has offered to raise 4.5% to 5.5%. But Jan Rodolfo, NNU's Midwest director, says nurses take issue with the hospital's proposal to raise the number of rotating shifts that nurses must work and eliminate the charge nurse position.
“We do not believe that they have any financial need to cut back,” Rodolfo said. "They can essentially shift charges down by keeping the money that's raised at the medical center (for hospital purposes). We see them using healthcare reform as an excuse to try to cut back.”
Bill Gleeson, a spokesman for Sacramento, Calif.-based Sutter Health, said in a written statement that the California Nurses Association has asked for wage increases of up to 19% and, at many hospitals, has yet to respond to proposals presented in December. He accused the union of manipulating the news media and public opinion to get its way.
“This labor union follows a PR playbook and they pick themes they believe will resonate with the public—even if the claims are false,” Gleeson said. “The fact is, Sutter Health hospitals meet or exceed the state's safe staffing ratios and routinely rank in the top quartile for quality.” Gleeson said the association “has a pattern of calling unnecessary strikes.”
National Nurses United spokesman Chuck Idelson said Gleeson exaggerated the number of strikes the union has called. “We have had a number of strikes because NNU nurses will not accept the ratcheting down of patient-care standards and nurses' livelihood and working conditions by multi-billion dollar corporations,” he said, acknowledging that NNU has called more strikes than other organizations.
Providence Health & Services, based in Renton, Wash., and Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente did not provide comment for this article.
NNU gained widespread media attention late last year when it organized its nurses around the Ebola crisis. It , accused Texas Health Resources, Kaiser Permanente and other providers of not providing nurses and other staff enough supplies or education about how to deal with the Ebola virus. One of its affiliates signed a Ebola working conditions pact with the University of Michigan.