Alta Bates Walkout Wednesday; Hospital Seeking Nursing Temps

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday October 09, 2007

Registered nurses plan to walk off their jobs at two Berkeley hospitals in Berkeley starting at 7 a.m. Wednesday as the start of a two-day job action. 

Alta Bates Summit Medical Center at 2450 Ashby Ave. and the associated Herrick Campus at 2001 Dwight Way are part of the Sutter Health chain, which is the target of the action by members of the California Nurses Association (CNA). 

CNA represents 5,000 nurses at the 15 Sutter hospitals in Northern California. The chain is headquartered in Sacramento. The walkout is scheduled to end at 7 a.m. Friday, according to CNA spokesperson Charles Idelson. 

The union said members will hold noon rallies on both days of the walkout at the Ashby Avenue hospital. 

But will the walkout last two days, or will the hospital chain respond with a lockout, extending the absence of union workers by another three to four days? That possibility is raised by ads placed by two agencies specializing in providing strike-breakers which are looking for temporary nurses to fill the vacant slots. 

Participating in walkouts at the two Berkeley hospitals and Oakland’s Summit Medical Center will be 1,700 nurses, said CNA spokesperson Liz Jacobs. 

Among the key issues behind the action, Jacobs said, are the union’s calls for better staffing ratios, adequate nursing coverage during breaks, creation of a “lift team” at each hospital to assist in patient handling and instituting rapid response teams including a critical care nurse and a respiratory therapist to handle emergencies. 

Pay has not been an issue in negotations, said Idelson. 

Jacobs said that as of late Monday afternoon no new talks between the hospital chain and the union were planned. 

“We met with a mediator Friday, but there was no progress and nothing more has been scheduled as of this moment,” she said. 

Jacobs said U.S. Nursing, a Colorado-based firm which specializes in temporary staffing during strikes, has been advertising for nurses to replace the strikers. 

According to the firm’s website, the company, created in 1989, specializes in “working with healthcare facilities and nursing professionals to provide staffing solutions during labor disputes.” 

The site advertises for five-day positions in California and promises a $1,000 payoff if the strike is settled by the time the replacement nurses arrive.  

Another recruiter may be closer to home. The union is distributing copies of a flyer which lists a phone number that belongs to another agency which also specializes in providing strike-breakers: HealthSource, with offices on Howard Street in San Francisco. 

The flyer offers RNs the chance to earn $2,340 in four days, with a requirement for a commitment of four to six days. 

“We pay for your transportation and luxury accommodations. You are driven to the hospital from your luxury hotel,” it says. A footnote at the very bottom of the flyer adds, “A LABOR DISPUTE MAY EXIST.” 

Repeated calls to Alta Bates Summit spokesperson Carolyn Kemp were not returned as of deadline Monday.