Kaiser, Sutter nurses strike over benefits

September 22, 2011 7:37:17 PM PDT
It was tough to get into many Bay Area hospitals on Thursday as tens of thousands of nurses went on-strike for one day only.

The nurses are showing solidarity with Kaiser Permanente nurses in Southern California. Nurses in San Diego and Los Angeles are on the second day of a three-day strike.

Oakland's Alta Bates Summit Medical center in Northern California is just one of 34 hospitals in Northern California where nurses and other employees went to strike for one day. Those who were striking said the prime issue is patient care, but they're also concerned about company-proposed cuts to their benefits.

Hundreds of nurses from Kaiser Oakland marched up Broadway to join with their counterparts at Summit Hospital for a rally that spilled into the streets.

Summit in Oakland and Alta Bates in Berkeley are both hospitals that belong to the Sutter Health chain. The nurses say management's proposed contract takeaways would seriously erode their ability to provide patients with quality health care.

"Nurses have been told by management to sign waivers to give up their breaks and their meals in order to provide good patient care," claimed Summit nurse Alicia Torres.

"One of the main issues is our sick time," said nurse Millicent Borland. "This management is taking away our sick time and putting us on California short-term disability."

But Sutter says the nurses' claims are either untrue or exaggerated.

"The nurses are highly paid," said Alta Bates Summit Spokesman Dr. Steve O'Brien, MD. "We are asking them to look at their health benefits. We are offering free health benefits for them, but if they want a premium Cadillac plan, we're asking them to contribute like everyone else would in the working world."

At Children's Hospital in Oakland, nurses have been without a contract for a year. There, the primary issue is higher costs for their health care.

For Kaiser nurses, who walked out for one day to show solidarity with their Sutter colleagues, there's a possibility of cuts in their health and retirement benefits.

"The nurses got together and felt that the takeaways were completely unjustified," said Kaiser nurse Beckie Seitz. "We wanted to stand by our union brothers and sisters to fight for a contract that is fair."

The strike is supposed to last one more day, but the Sutter chain will lock the nurses out for several more days because they claim the replacement nurses that were hired have a contract that guarantees them a certain number of days for work.

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