Hospital Nurses Back to Work Following Strike and Lockout

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday October 16, 2007

Staff registered nurses at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center and Herrick Hospital were back at work Monday morning—three days after their two-day walkout ended. 

Members of the California Nurses Association (CNA) walked out of their jobs at 13 hospitals of the Sutter Health chain and two Sacramento-area hospitals of the smaller Fremont-Rideout Health Group. 

While the nurses had announced a two-day action, the Berkeley hospitals and their sister facility in Oakland, along with some other Sutter facilities guaranteed five days of work for non-union replacements, many flown in from out of state. 

Other hospitals in the chain allowed striking nurses to return immediately after the two-day walkout. 

More than 5,000 CNA nurses struck starting at 7 a.m. Wednesday, announcing well in advance that they were staging a two-day action. 

Locked out when they attempted to return to work Friday, Berkeley RNs were finally able to report back to work Monday morning. A hospital representative told Bay City News that they had only been able to recruit replacements for the longer term. 

At least two agencies specializing in finding short-term replacements for striking nurses had advertised for strike-breakers. 

CNA spokesperson Charles Idelson said Monday afternoon that he hasn’t heard of any problems with nurses returning to work, “but we’re monitoring the situation closely.” 

Idelson said the union had strong support from local political figures, including two who are nurses at Alta Bates Summit: Berkeley City Councilmember Max Anderson, who cares for patients at the Oakland hospital, and Albany Mayor Robert Lieber, who works in Berkeley. 

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and Assemblymember Loni Hancock appeared at a CNA Berkeley rally Wednesday, and Berkeley Councilmember Kriss Worthington, a candidate for Hancock’s seat if she doesn’t run again, appeared at a Thursday rally in Oakland. 

While members of many unions attended the rallies, only members of the Office and Professional Employees International Union voted to honor the picket line. 

The lockout—which Idelson called a retaliatory action by Alta Bates Summit management—mirrors an identical action taken after CNA’s last walkout on Sutter hospitals. 

After the one-day action Dec. 1, 2004, the chain locked its doors to union members for the next four days. 

While Sutter operates more than 20 hospitals, including one in Hawaii, each hospital or hospital group negotiates its own contracts with unions. CNA contracts with all the Sutter hospitals have expired in recent months, with the Alta Bates Summit pacts ending last month, Idelson said. 

No new talks are planned between union and management, while negotiations to date have focused on workplace and patient care concerns—with no mention yet of salary or benefits. 

Idelson said union leaders will be meeting sometime in the next few days to plan their next moves. 

Carolyn Kemp, the designated spokes-person for the Berkeley hospital, did not return calls by deadline Monday, and did not return calls before or during the strike and subsequent lockout.