Alta Bates nurses strike over Sutter Health contract reductions

Sebastian Miller-Hack/Staff
Protesters strike on Tuesday afternoon in front of Alta Bates Campus, located at 2450 Ashby Avenue.

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Registered nurses at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley went on strike Tuesday to protest more than 100 proposed reductions to their existing contracts.

Beginning at 7 a.m., dozens of picketers gathered at both Berkeley Alta Bates campuses as part of demonstrations that took place at a total of seven hospitals operated by the Sutter Health Corporation across the Bay Area. The strikes have been recurring since contract negotiations between nurses and the health care provider began in May 2011.

“Despite having a $4.2 billion profit in the last fiscal year, Sutter is trying to squeeze (more money) out of the nurses and other employees who are without a contract just to add to their bottom line,” said Thorild Urdal, a registered nurse at Alta Bates Summit in Berkeley for over 27 years.

According to the strikers, the proposed cutbacks include $18 salary cuts for new 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.

Of the 100 proposed reductions, the most prominent is the end to paid sick leave, according to Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto, another registered nurse at Alta Bates Summit in Berkeley.

Nurses caring for sick patients while sick themselves is counter-intuitive, Pardue-Okimoto said.

“The proposals they have on the table now would encourage nurses to come in sick, which is dangerous for the community,” Pardue-Okimoto said.

However, the Sutter Health Corporation believes that any reductions to the nurses’ contract would be no more than a modest proposal, according to Stacey Wells, spokesperson for Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, an affiliate of Sutter Health.

“We continue to meet at the bargaining table to negotiate a fair contract. Our RNs are among the highest paid in the country, earning between $50 and $72 an hour depending on experience, plus extra pay for nights and weekends,” said Wells in an email.

Wells said the average nurse at Alta Bates Summit working full time earns more than $136,000 a year, in addition to having a fully-paid health plan and retirement package.

Still, the nurses maintain that they will not stop striking until their demands have been met. The protesters at the Ashby campus held a rally at 11 a.m., chanting, “How long will we stay? As long as it takes!”

“The nurses would rather be inside taking care of patients instead of being out here standing up for our rights,” Pardue-Okimoto said. “But we have to what we can to maintain current standards for taking care of patients.”