Nurses strike outside of Alta Bates

Nurses protest cuts to healthcare and pay

Javier Panzar/Senior Staff
Registered nurses picket outside the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center on Telegraph Avenue to strike against proposed cutbacks.

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Registered nurses picketed outside Alta Bates Summit Medical Center on Telegraph Avenue Tuesday morning to strike against the proposed cutbacks from Sutter Health Corporation.

The nurses gathered starting at 7 a.m. for the third one-day strike held since the conflict with the corporation began, according to Eric Cook, a nurse at the center. The nurses’ strike is one of several strikes taking place Tuesday at different  facilities owned by the corporation across the Bay Area.

The protests are also being held in connection with the International May 1 Day of Action and General Strike in which union workers and occupy protesters are participating.

The mood at the nurses’ strike was almost festive with heartfelt chants, pizza, blaring music and cheers as passing cars honked in solidarity. Yet what appeared to be a friendly gathering on the surface was underlined by a shared sense of urgency.

“I am so grateful for each and every one of you for being here and wearing red,” said  Ann Gabler, a bargaining team representative and nurse at the center. “I guarantee you that I am not going to let Sutter Health Corporation take a magic marker to our contract and line out the parts that they don’t like.”

According to the strikers, the proposed cutbacks include $18 salary cuts for new graduate nurses, cutting sick leave for nurses, forcing nurses to work in hospital areas in which they do not have expertise and health coverage cuts for nurses, among others. Nurses at the strike said these cutbacks will hurt not only nurses but patients.

“We’re fighting for the fact that our hospital has over $4 billion in profits in the past four years, yet they want to cut our wages and benefits by 30 percent,” Cook said. “They’re also cutting services to the community. No more bone marrow transplants, no more free breast screenings for people with disabilities … cutting mental health services.”

This sense of unfairness was a common theme in the rally Tuesday as nurses chanted, “WTF Sutter — Where’s the fairness?”

Many people, like California Nurses Association Director of Public Policy Michael Lighty, were angered by what they feel is the corporation’s priorities being placed on profits over patients.

“This corporation is designed for one thing and that is to make money and you nurses are the force that can change this corporation and make it serve the community and its patients,” Lighty said. “And if you don’t stand up, there’s nothing between the patients and Sutter’s business model.”

According to the nurses, while the corporation proposes cutbacks on its nurses’ salaries, there are other parts of the organization still profiting.

President and Chief Executive of Sutter Health Patrick Fry and other company executives have received salary hikes, nurses said.

The conflict with the corporation has stretched over 43 contract negotiation sessions adding up to a total of 500 hours over the last year, Gabler said. Still, the nurses at the center feel the corporation has been unresponsive to the needs and demands from the nurses.

“Alta Bates has been a powerhouse of union activity and that’s what (Sutter) wants to do here,” said nurse John Maynes. “They want to try to break the union here at one of its most powerful places.”

Jaehak Yu covers city government.