4,000 Sutter Health nurses on strike in the Bay Area

December 22, 2011 6:24:45 PM PST
Four thousand nurses staged a one-day strike at Bay Area hospitals over stalled contract talks with Sutter Health management. The hospital is locking out the nurses for a second day to bring in replacements.

The last time a strike like this happened, a patient died.

Though they'll be paid for five days by contract, the replacement nurses will only work for two days this time around. Meanwhile, the striking nurses say, despite more than two dozen bargaining sessions, they're no closer to a new contract with Sutter Health.

Two days before Christmas, striking nurses say Sutter Health is playing 'Grinch' with their livelihoods.

For the second time in three months at nine Sutter hospitals, there are picket lines over proposed concessions the hospital management wants from the nurses union.

Talks between the two sides earlier this week failed to avert the one-day strike.

"They have a train that's moving really quickly down the tracks in terms of their benefits and their salary, and we've got to really try and control that," said Steve O'Brien with Alta Bates Medical Center.

"They're not budging at the table," said striking nurse Millicent Borland. "We've had 30 sessions at the table. They refuse to go near any of our takeaways, and there are over 100 takeaways at the table."

According to the nurses, a major issue involves Sutter's proposal to merge sick and vacation days into one, allowing 35 paid days off per year, 10 fewer than under the current contract.

"That's almost two months of paid time off in a year," said O'Brien. "That's an enormous amount of paid time off, and people can certainly use that for sick time, so it is absolutely not true that we're taking away sick time."

"As a nurse, if I'm sick, I need to stay home," said nurse Patrice Koffi. "I'm not supposed to come to work because when I'm sick, I become a patient also."

Last time the union went on strike, a patient at Alta Bates Summit in Oakland died. The hospital admitted that a replacement nurse mistakenly put a nutritional supplement directly into a patient's intravenous tube.

"I'm really concerned," said Victoria Mapp, whose 77-year-old mother has been in Summit Oakland for a month. "But I just left, I was there an hour. I think the nurses cannot be replaced, but I think they're doing a good job -- the replacement nurses."

The regular nurses will be back on duty at 7 a.m. Saturday, so the replacements can travel back to their homes in time for Christmas. The nurses say another strike is certainly possible.

The next bargaining session is set for the second week of January.

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