Area nurses to join thousands of other nurses in statewide strike

Nurses from Berkeley hospitals will participate Thursday in a massive strike along with thousands of nurses across the state.

Nearly 23,000 nurses from the California Nurses Association — a sector of the nation’s largest nurses’ union, National Nurses United — are planning to walk off the job at Sutter Health affiliate hospitals and Kaiser Permanente hospitals across Central and Northern California, including two Alta Bates Summit Medical Center campuses in Berkeley, according to a press release from National Nurses United.

The strike addresses what the national union calls “200 sweeping demands for concessions,” and comes in the midst of contract negotiations between union nurses and Alta Bates administrators, according to Carolyn Kemp, director of public relations at Alta Bates. In a Monday press release from the national union, the union expressed concern over proposed cuts to workers’ healthcare coverage and the elimination of paid sick leave, which it said could force sick nurses to work and put patients at risk. Contract negotiations have been ongoing since May.

“Unfortunately, in nearly five months of bargaining, CNA has not even provided a wage offer, nor have they responded to our wage proposal. We believe this strike has more to do with the union’s priorities — like collaborative efforts with other unions — than about the priorities of Alta Bates Summit registered nurses,” Kemp said in an email.

Kemp said Alta Bates registered nurses have seen a 22 percent salary increase over the past three years, and that full-time nurses at the hospitals currently earn an average yearly salary of $136,000.

Alta Bates has signed five-day contracts with replacement nurses to keep hospitals staffed. State union spokesperson Liz Jacobs said this contract could keep striking nurses from returning to work for five days after the one-day strike, but that nurses will show up to work Friday regardless of the contract.

“Not everyone is doing the (five-day) lockout, but Alta Bates says this is required by the (replacement worker) agencies,” she said. “That’s not the case, as we’ve seen with other strikes. This lockout is meant to penalize and punish the nurses, and make them think twice about striking again.”

Nurses from the Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Oakland will also strike Thursday as a result of their own failed contract negotiations.

In addition, 17,000 Kaiser Permanente nurses — also members of the union — in Central and Northern California have been called upon by the union to join with National Union of Healthcare Workers in a sympathy strike against proposed cuts to National Union of Healthcare Workers’ healthcare and retirement benefits.

“It is disappointing that CNA is asking its members to disrupt patient care and put communities at risk when they have a firm contract in place that runs through 2014,” said Gay Westfall, senior vice president of human resources for Kaiser, in a statement.

The contract between the union and Kaiser Permanente went into effect Sept. 1 and “provides nurses with a 2 percent wage increase twice a year … and no changes in benefits” for the next three years, according to Westfall.

California Nurses Association registered nurses participating in the sympathy strike are acting “on the fundamental trade union principle of union solidarity,” according to the National Union of Healthcare Workers’ website.

“(The participating nurses) recognize that the injuries Kaiser intends to inflict on NUHW workers are and will be injuries suffered by CNA-represented RNs,” according to the website.