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September 21, 2011

Registered nurses in California have given notice they will engage Sept. 22 in one-day strikes at 34 hospitals throughout the state, the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United announced Sept. 9.

The strikes will affect some 23,000 RNs at facilities of the large hospital chains Sutter Health and Kaiser Permanente, as well as at Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Oakland, Calif.

In addition to the strikes by CNA-represented RNs, the National Union of Healthcare Workers has given notice to Kaiser Permanente it will stage limited-duration strikes Sept. 21-23 affecting 4,000 health care workers statewide.

NUHW has been in negotiations with Kaiser for a first contract for one and one-half years in Southern California and nearly one year in Northern California, union spokesman Leighton Woodhouse said Sept. 12.

The 17,000 RNs at Kaiser represented by CNA will join NUHW caregivers on the picket line Sept. 22 for a 24-hour sympathy strike.

Although the Kaiser registered nurses are not in contract negotiations and successfully avoided health care cuts in their last round of bargaining, they plan to strike in solidarity with other frontline health care workers at the hospitals who are fighting takeaways, Woodhouse said.

The nurses also believe they would be next in line for cuts if Kaiser succeeds in cutting benefits for NUHW members. . Zenei Cortez, one of CNA’s co-presidents, told BNA in August that CNA believes that “some unions have conceded to takeaways with Kaiser” and “we want to nip [further takeaways] in the bud.” If Kaiser achieves its agenda with all the other unions, then it will come after the nurses when their contract expires in 2014, she added.

“Despite enjoying record profits over the last two years, Kaiser administrators are insisting on implementing major reductions to workers’ healthcare coverage and retirement benefits,” NUHW said Sept. 8 in a statement announcing the strike plans.

“NUHW members have refused to roll over and accept management’s demands and are holding the line against cuts which Kaiser intends to impose upon tens of thousands more employees represented by other unions as their contract come up for renewal over the next several years,” the union said.

Other issues at the NUHW-Kaiser bargaining table include employer proposals to replace workers’ defined benefit pension plans with a defined contribution plan, elimination of health care coverage for future retirees, and disagreement about union calls for contractually enforceable safe-staffing guidelines for nurses and staffing levels sufficient to guarantee timely access to care for mental health patients, the union said.

The union will stage strikes at Kaiser hospitals from Sacramento to San Diego. A three-day strike will begin at Kaiser’s flagship Southern California hospital—Kaiser Los Angeles Medical Center—on Sept. 21 affecting more than 1,100 employees. In Southern California, about 1,200 social workers and psychologists will conduct a two-day strike on Sept. 21-22. In Northern California, about 1,500 mental health professionals and optical workers will strike for 24 hours beginning at 6 a.m. on Sept. 22.

Kaiser spokesman John Nelson told BNA Sept. 12 that the employer is negotiating in good faith and will continue to do so. “Our proposals will ensure Kaiser Permanente will remain a great place to work for NUHW-represented employees, and that they will continue to receive highly desirable, market-competitive compensation and benefits. Although NUHW has had our economic proposals for a month or more, they have not responded with counter proposals. Instead, their response has been to strike, rather than negotiate on these matters. This is deeply disappointing and counterproductive,” he said.

While Nelson said the hospital recognizes NUHW’s legal right to conduct a strike, he said that “a CNA-sanctioned work stoppage is inconsistent with the CNA contract that just went into effect on Sept. 1. In fact, Kaiser Permanente and CNA negotiated this contract earlier this year with the mutual goal of labor peace. The contract specifically states, under the header, ‘No Strikes or Lockouts’ that ‘There shall be no strikes, lockouts or other stoppages or interruptions of work during the life of this Agreement.’ ”

CNA, however, denied that the Kaiser contract restricts their right to engage in a sympathy strike. “Kaiser has always recognized our rights and the rights of other employees to engage in sympathy strikes with other unions,” Idelson told BNA Sept. 12. By stating otherwise, he said, Kaiser is “making unilateral changes in their interpretation of this contract.”

Kaiser hospitals affected by the CNA sympathy strike would include facilities in Sacramento, Roseville, San Jose, Santa Clara, Redwood City, San Francisco, South San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond, Hayward, Fremont, Santa Rosa, San Rafael, Vallejo, Vacaville, Walnut Creek, Fresno, Stockton, Manteca, and Modesto.

Nearly 800 CNA-represented RNs at Children’s Hospital Oakland have been working without a contract since July 2010. The strike Sept. 22 at the urban pediatric hospital will be the nurses’ third strike over the hospital’s proposals to increase employee out-of-pocket health care expenses.

Children’s administration “is taking advantage of the economic times and trying to roll back improvements we have won over many years through our CNA contract,” RN Martha Kuhl said Sept. 9 in a statement. “Everyone deserves health care and if nurses can’t afford health care, who will be able to?”

The nurses said the proposed health care costs would be prohibitively expensive for nurses to bring their own children to get care at the hospital where they work.

CNA members’ one-day strike at Sutter Health hospitals is induced by what they said is “Sutter’s unprecedented demands for some 200 sweeping cuts in patient care and nurses’ standards on top of months of widespread reductions in availability of patient care services, motivated by commercial concerns.”

CNA, which represents about 5,000 Sutter Health RNs, is currently in contract negotiations with the company for renewal of 12 collective bargaining agreements that expired June 1 through Aug. 31, union spokesman Idelson said Sept. 12.

CNA has been resisting Sutter proposals to restrict the ability of RNs to advocate for patients in making clinical assessments of staffing and other patient needs, the union said.

The nurses also object to Sutter proposals that would “force nurses to work when sick, … subject nurses to arbitrary discipline based on benchmark budget goals, and sharply raise out-of-pocket costs by thousands of dollars for nurses and their families.”

“We staunchly refuse to be silenced on patient care protections,” Sharon Tobin, a 24-year RN at Sutter Mills-Peninsula in Burlingame, said in a statement Sept. 9. “A common theme throughout management’s proposals is removing our presence on committees that address important patient care issues and nursing practices. As nurses, we speak up, and we insist on standards that safeguard our patients, but Sutter doesn’t want to hear about anything that might cut into their huge profits.”

Sutter hospitals affected by the strike include Alta Bates Summit facilities in Berkeley and Oakland, Mills-Peninsula in Burlingame and San Mateo, Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley and San Leandro, and Sutter hospitals in Vallejo, Santa Rosa, Antioch, Novato, and Lakeport.

Sutter and Children’s representatives were not available for comment. 09-20-2011. Bureau of National Affairs.