Almost 4,000 Bay Area health care workers are prepared to hold a one-day strike Thursday unless federal mediators can negotiate a settlement between union officials and hospital management tomorrow.
But the only thing workers and management seem to agree on is that an agreement does not appear to be close.
The strike would affect patients at 10 hospitals, eight of which are operated by Sutter Health and Catholic Healthcare West: Alta Bates-Summit Medical Center and Eden Medical Center in the East Bay, and St. Francis, St. Mary’s and Seton Medical Center in San Francisco and Daly City.
Sutter’s Solano Medical Center and Lakeside Hospital and independently operated Alameda Hospital and Children’s Hospital Oakland would also be affected.
The likely strike would include receptionists, food service workers, nursing assistants and respiratory therapists.
Service Employees International Union Local 250 says the two health care giants have refused to address issues vital to workers, such as the quality of patient care, improvements in staffing and worker safety and security, according to spokeswoman Christy Hawkins.
Hospital officials, meanwhile, disputed claims that management has stalled negotiations and attacked the union for its tactics.
“This is an irresponsible act by the union,” said spokeswoman Carolyn Kemp of Alta Bates-Summit Medical Center. “Patients are not bargaining chips.”
Kemp said Alta Bates-Summit has prepared steps to minimize the potential impact of a strike, including reducing non-essential services and canceling elective, out-patient procedures that would unnecessarily crowd the hospital during a work stoppage. She stressed, however, that the impact of a strike would stretch beyond each individual facility.
“This puts health care at risk in our entire community,” Kemp said.
Union representatives, meanwhile, said that open letters to Sutter and CHW from clergy, community groups and elected officials showed widespread support for their efforts. The letters criticize the organizations for posting substantial profits while patients “face threats to quality as resources shift from direct care staff and services to administration and marketing, mergers and acquisitions.”
There was one piece of good news this week in union-hospital relations: Members of the California Nurses Association have ratified a new contract with Alta Bates-Summit. The two-year contract, which covers some 1,700 nurses, is the first registered nurse contract approved since Berkeley’s Alta Bates Medical Center and Oakland’s Summit Medical Center merged last December.
According to the CNA, the key component of the agreement is the creation of four “Quality Care Liaison” positions. Each of the hospitals will have two such liaisons, who will act as watchdogs, investigating and evaluating safety concerns at the hospitals. They will work half of their time performing the duties of the position and the other half working as registered nurses.
Kemp said that the hospital hopes nurses remain on the job Thursday.
“We’re hoping that the nurses don’t let Local 250 dictate what to do,” Kemp said. “We need our nurses and we hope they’ll be here on Thursday.”