Nurses stage walkout at Children's Hospital

Nurses protesting proposed hikes in their health care benefits are staging a walkout at Children's Hospital in Oakland.

October 12, 2010 12:19:26 PM PDT
Nearly 800 nurses at Children's Hospital in Oakland have walked off their jobs and they will strike for the next three days. The hospital will remain fully operational and some elective surgeries though have been canceled.

As for the strike, both sides have been trying to hammer out a new contract for about five months now.

The hospital says nurses need to compromise more because of the sluggish economy, in which it has lost $69 million in the last four years, while nurses say it can trim some fat off the top, because they're already at the bottom.

The hospital is proposing that the nurses pay 15 percent of their healthcare benefits if they use a premium PPO plan, which nurses say, most of them do. That could add up to nearly $4,000 more a year.

For nurses like Wendy Bloom, who has been here 23 years, it's frustrating, especially since they've agreed to a pay freeze the first year.

"Other nurses in the Bay Area don't have health care co-pays, better health plans, and better wages or better retirement. If we take this, we would be at the bottom," she said.

But the hospital says it's still offering two other plans that would be fully covered by the employer, including an HMO. At an average salary of $136,000 a year, the hospital says it's time for the nurses to get realistic.

"When we last negotiated in 2007, there were different economic times, they got pay raises. That's just not the reality in these economic times," Nancy Shibata, RN, from Children's Hospital said.

While the nurses are off the job, the hospital has brought in about 125 replacement nurses from around the country to make sure it's covered the next three days and those nurses will work longer shifts.

Some patients say they're still getting the care they need.

"It's alright, it hasn't changed really. They're still helping us up there, so I'm not worried about it," patient Nathaniel Kisling said.

Right now, there are no plans for either side to come to the bargaining table. A federal mediator is ready to help with negotiations when both sides are ready to talk again.