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Long Beach Memorial Medical Center nurses prepare for strike

October 28, 2011 |  8:23 pm

Long beach memorial1Hundreds of registered nurses at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center could go on strike next week if contract negotiations with the hospital’s management fail.

Union members authorized the strike after two days of voting, according to Margie Keenan, a 38-year registered nurse at the hospital and secretary of the California Nurses Assn.  "It was an overwhelming majority," Keenan said Friday.

The union represents about 1,900 registered nurses at the hospital, according to Keenan.

The hospital employs 2,000 registered nurses, hospital officials say.

The union's action comes a few days before bargaining members meet with hospital officials in an effort to settle a month-long contract dispute. But Keenan said the strike would be put off if they were making headway on negotiations by Tuesday or Wednesday.

"We want to work this out, start really bargaining and get a good contract for the nurses," she said.

Hospital management officials say they are disappointed with the union’s action, but hope that they can resolve the contract issue and prevent the strike. They say they have addressed two major concerns by the union such as salaries and health benefits.

"They seem to be thinking that all we care about is the economics, but we have some serious patient

care and safety issues that we want to really resolve," Keenan said.

The union is requesting lunch breaks for nurses, no "call-offs" (equivalent to furloughs)  and that nurses who are floated from one unit to another have experience to treat patients, as well as wage increases and a cap on health benefits.

But hospital officials contend those concerns of floating and call-offs are industry standards. The call-offs are needed to effectively use staffing and stay fiscally stable. Officials say the hospital is financially sound.  But "in essence, if there are no patients, nurses are going to be sent home," said Judy Fix, chief nursing officer and vice president for patient care at the hospital.

If negotiations fail, it would be the second major strike by the registered nurses. The last strike was in October 2002 over a new pension program, better staffing levels and pay increases for veteran nurses.

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--Ruben Vives

Photo: A man waits outside the emergency entrance at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. Credit: Lori Shepler / Associated Press

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