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6,000 nurses plan one-day strike across the state

December 19, 2011 |  7:31 pm

Thousands of registered nurses across California will strike for one day this week over myriad issues they say include predatory cuts that affect patient care, unsuccessful contract negotiations and rising healthcare premium costs.

The strikes will take place Thursday and will involve 2,000 nurses from Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and Miller Children's Hospital, and 4,000 nurses from eight Bay Area hospitals owned by Sutter Health, according to the California Nurses Assn. and National Nurses United.

The major work stoppage is not expected to affect patient care, but replacing the nurses for a day will cost the two nonprofit foundations millions of dollars, union and hospital officials acknowledge.

On Monday, nurses in Long Beach were making picket signs and banners in preparation for the walkout. For months the nurses have been in contract negotiations with hospital management. Their contract expired Sept. 30.

The union claims the hospital has insufficient staff to meet minimum safety standards as required by state law and say union members often work through their breaks and lunches. They also claim the hospital has stalled on creating a safe patient lift policy to reduce work injuries as required by the state. Additionally, the nurses have been fighting an increase in benefit costs.

Last month, hundreds of nurses participated in a candlelight vigil to raise awareness of the issues.

Long Beach Memorial officials called the strike a disappointment. They said they have complied with state standards and are adequately staffed to provide meal and rest period coverage. They said that hospital data shows that of the 9,000 nursing shifts worked every two weeks, only 235 nurses are paid for missed breaks or lunch meals.

Officials also said they are not stalling on creating a lift policy. They said lift teams have been put in place while the state defines those regulations.

Long Beach Memorial President and Chief Executive Diana Hendel said the average healthcare premium increase nurses will see is $4.76 per pay period. Employees with families would see the highest increase of $18.28 per pay period.

Still, she said, the hospital pays 82% to 92% of the total premium costs for all employees.

Some of those same issues are affecting nurses in Northern California, where union members at eight hospitals owned by Sutter Health say they face elimination of sick time and healthcare benefits. Full-time nurses face partial elimination of those services, according to Efren Garza, a nurse and team negotiator in Oakland.

The one-day Bay Area walkout will affect Alta Bates Summit Medical Center facilities in Berkeley and Oakland, Mills-Peninsula Health Services hospitals in Burlingame and San Mateo, Eden Medical Center hospitals in Castro Valley and San Leandro, Sutter Delta in Antioch and Sutter Solano in Vallejo.

The strikes will follow a much larger demonstration in New York, where nurses from five states plan to converge Tuesday outside the headquarters of Cerberus Capital Management. National Nurses United, the largest union and professional association of registered nurses in the U.S., say the nurses are protesting the private firm's healthcare unit, Steward Health Care System, which they say has been cutting nursing staff, medical supplies and patient services.


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