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Campus T.A. Strike Averted; Alta Bates Nurse Action Near

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday October 02, 2007

Last week, essential workers at two of Berkeley’s largest institutions said they were headed toward walkouts. By Monday afternoon, one strike threat had ended but the other was moving forward. 

Registered nurses at 13 Sutter hospitals, including the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center campuses in Oakland and Berkeley, are still planning a two-day strike for Oct. 10 and 11. 

But teaching assistants at UC Berkeley and the other University of California campuses won a new contract Monday—pending ratification by the full membership of United Auto Workers Local 2865. 

“We feel very good,” said Daraka Larimore-Hall, head of UC Santa Barbara’s bargaining unit who has been in Oakland for marathon bargaining talks that began Wednesday. 

“We are very happy to recommend ratification to our membership,” he said, though declining to offer details of the new accord. 

In addition to pay, negotiations focused on long waits for child care openings, health benefits and fee remissions and a demand for equal treatment of summer session with other terms of the school year. 

Though the current contract expired at midnight Sunday, the union’s bargaining committee extended the pact on an hour-by-hour basis until the bargaining committee voted for acceptance at 9 a.m. 

“We have a full contract with a two-year term,” said Larimore-Hall. “We’ll be presenting it to the membership and we expect ratification in a week to 10 days.” 

The union represents 6,615 members, including teaching assistants, tutors and readers who voted to affiliate with the UAW in 1999 after would-be members demonstrated their potential clout in a strike called during finals week the previous December. 

Local 2865 is now the largest university student union in the country. 

In an instance of perhaps unintentional irony, the main UC Berkeley web page featured a link Monday afternoon entitled “Asking the boss for a raise: A matter of moods.” 


Nurses at impasse 

While one strike threat has ended—at least for now—the threat of a major hospital strike, albeit a brief one, looms large. 

In addition to the 13 Sutter hospitals, two hospitals from another chain north of Sacramento are also on walkout list, said Charles Idelson, spokesperson for the California Nurses Association (CNA). 

Another non-Sutter hospital had been slated for the labor action until the end of last week—Oakland’s Children’s Hospital & Research Center—“but they are no longer on the list because there was important progress made during bargaining Friday,” said Idelson. 

CNA officials gave Sutter their 10-day notice that same day, paving the way for what could be another hard-fought confrontation, given the past history of the union and the Sacramento-based health care consortium. 

Three years ago, Sutter locked out its nurses after a one-day walkout—keeping them out an additional four days, their places filled by temporary hires recruited well before the walkout began. 

Often-rancorous bargaining sessions followed, complicated by antagonisms generated by the lock-out. 

Idelson said relations aren’t any better now. “They’ve said they’ve made their last, best and final offer and have no interest in negotiating further,” said the union official. 

The last time around, the CNA was joined in its walkout with Licensed Vocational Nurses and other workers from United Healthcare Workers—West. Asked if that union would join in the action, Idelson referred a reporter to that union. 

Calls to representatives of the second union were not returned by Monday’s deadline. Carolyn Kemp, the spokesperson for Berkeley’s Alta Bates Summit campus also did not respond.  

Efren Garza, a charge nurse at the Herrick Hospital campus in Berkeley, said pay isn’t an issue in current negotiations. “Right now, we’re focused on safe staffing ratios, retiree benefits and pensions,” he said. 

One key concern is to have a dedicated nurse assigned to patient admissions and transfers so that nurses assigned to patients needing acute and critical care don’t have to divert their time from patient care.