A one-day strike at Berkeley’s Alta Bates Medical Center and 12 other Sutter Health hospitals in Northern California commencing at 6 a.m. Wednesday will cost strikers five days of pay.
To fill in the gap the hospital has lined up “incredibly skilled” replacements to fill in for five days, said Alta Bates spokesperson Carolyn Kemp.
Sutter has responded to the single-day job action called by members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 250 and joined by members of the California Nurses Association (CNA) with the announcement that those who leave Wednesday will be shut our for an additional four days.
The chain’s response could put a chill on Christmas plans for union members.
A flyer put out by the hospitals warned union members to “Do the math: How much will Local 250’s strike—and five days of lost pay from your last paycheck before the holidays—cost you and your family? Is it worth it?”
The warning followed the declaration, “Unless your contract is ratified before the five-day replacement period, employees who choose to strike on December 1 will not be returned to work until Monday.”
The announcement described the lockout as a move “to encourage employees to ratify this great offer,” management’s latest contract proposal.
While Kemp portrayed the strike as a union move to bring their members into line, the union depicts the action as a last-ditch effort to force the chain into raising the quality of health care.
SEIU Local 250 President Sal Rosselli denounced the five-day lockout, and said the union would institute an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board if Sutter follows through with the threat.
“They’re simply doing it to punish the workers,” he said.
Kemp said many union members had reported they were willing to keep working, while Rosselli said the strike had “overwhelming support” from both unions.
Rosselli’s union represents most Sutter employees at the hospitals except for Registered Nurses, who belong to the CNA.
The two unions “are united in this drastic actions—and a walkout is a drastic action—because we have been bargaining since last March and Sutter Health still refuses to give us a voice in setting staffing levels,” Rosselli said.
Sutter officials have charged the union with trying to force Sutter to sign a master contract—a contract that would apply to all hospitals in the system—a charge which Rosselli denies.
“They’re lying to the press and the community. We’re not demanding a master contract and we’re willing to accept eight different contracts,” he said. He said the union hadn’t sought a master agreement.
“We certainly are demanding standards, and it makes sense to have a model contract to base them on,” Rosselli added.
“We’re very happy they’ve given up on the master contract,” said Kemp.
The key issue for both unions is an employee role in setting staffing standards and levels, a role granted the unions by all the other Northern California hospital chains, Rosselli said.
The SEIU contract expired on April 30.
“We tried to get them to sit down at the table starting in January,” said Kemp. “We implemented new wages and benefits in July” at levels higher than originally offered to the union.
Kemp said the hospitals’ wages are the highest in East Bay and benefits included 100 percent health coverage for members, their spouses or domestic partners and their dependents, “something offered by only three or four percent of all employers in the country.”
Between them, Alta Bates in Berkeley and Summit Medical Center in Oakland—two hospitals in the same bargaining unit—have 1,300 SEIU members and 1,700 CNA nurses.
While Kemp said the strike wouldn’t reduce the quality of care at the hospitals, Rosselii said, “the people they’re hiring don’t know anything about their hospitals,” which would impact the care patients received.