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State officials plan to seek order blocking 12,000 nurses from striking

June 8, 2010 |  9:03 am
State officials plan to seek a court order Tuesday to block about 12,000 Southern California nurses from striking this week, but even if a judge issues the order, they say, the labor conflict will likely cost $15 million.

Nurses plan to strike Thursday at all five University of California hospitals, student health centers and Marina Del Rey Hospital, Citrus Valley Medical Center and Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center San Pedro, according to a spokesman for their union, the California Nurses Assn.

The California Public Employment Relations Board, a state regulatory agency that handles public employee relations, is seeking a court order that would prevent the union from striking, according to Dwaine Duckett, the university system’s vice president of human resources. A hearing on the injunction is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday in San Francisco Superior Court, Duckett said.

“We feel CNA’s leadership has bargained in bad faith and continues to by leveraging patient safety to serve their purposes,” Duckett said.

Nurses plan to protest outside the courthouse before Tuesday’s hearing, said Chuck Idelson, a union spokesman.

Idelson said contract negotiations stalled after hospital officials proved unwilling to meet state-mandated nurse staffing ratios.

“Nurses don’t strike lightly. They’re striking because they are alarmed at the universities’ unwillingness to address inadequate staffing that puts patents at risk,” Idelson said.

If nurses strike, Idelson said, the union would still maintain a small staff on standby at each hospital in case of emergency.

But Duckett said that isn't enough. UC health officials are paying to fly in nurses from as far away as the East Coast, house and train them and cover other expenses at an estimated cost of $10 million to $15 million, with about $5 million just for Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center, Duckett said. Even if a judge issues a court order Tuesday, the cost will remain about the same, he said. Nurses started arriving Monday morning, and hospital officials have postponed and canceled surgeries and may have to divert patients and ambulances, he said.

It is not clear who ultimately will pay the tab for the strike.

“It comes right out of hospital revenues that could be going to other things, these items that ostensibly CNA says they’re concerned about,” Duckett said. “Anything we’re spending on this, we’re not spending on patients.”

After a judge issued an order preventing the union from striking at UC hospitals in 2005, citing risks to public health and safety, UC health officials had to foot the bill for flying in nurses and other costs, about $7 million to $8 million, although they are still trying to recoup the costs from the union, according to Steve Montiel, a university system spokesman.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske