Five-Day Nurses’ Walkout / Lockout Ends at Alta Bates

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday December 18, 2007

Once again, a two-day nurses’ strike at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center turned into a five-day affair, with a three-day lockout added by corporate parent Sutter Health. 

The walkout/lockout was scheduled to end at 7 a.m. today (Tuesday) at the 13 Sutter hospitals affected by the job action. 

The California Nurses Association (CNA), which represents registered nurses, called the walkout after talks with Sacramento-based Sutter reached an impasse. 

The strike followed on the heels of another two-day walkout in October, which Sutter similarly extended with a three-day lockout after recruiting nurses from agencies that specialize in striker replacements. 

“Things are great,” said Carolyn Kemp, spokesperson for Sutter’s three Alta Bates Summit Medical Center facilities in Berkeley and Oakland, Monday afternoon. 

Kemp said about 62 percent of their regular nursing staff has been crossing the picket lines—a figure disputed by CNA spokesperson Liz Jacobs. 

“We had about 95 percent participation last time, and this time we think it’s about the same or better,” Jacobs said. 

Negotiations between the union and the hospital chain have been under way since early spring, and both sides are saying that an impasse has been reached. 

Jacobs said the key issues for nurses are patient care, retirement benefits and their own health insurance. 

The company wants to cut back the range of available health plans for members and require worker contributions to the plan, she said. 

“We believe in a single payer system for everyone, like Medicare,” Jacobs said. “In Medicare, administrative costs run about 3 percent, versus 30 percent for private systems.” 

In a written statement, Kemp said the hospitals are offering free coverage for nurses and their families. 

While the company is offering an 18 percent pay hike over four years, “CNA has not even provided a wage offer” nor responded to the Sutter offer, Kemp said. 

The day before Thursday’s walkout, Sutter filed an unfair labor practices allegation with the National Labor Relations Board charging that the union had refused to hand over information to the company about its contracts with other hospitals. 

Kemp said Alta Bates Summit brought in 470 nurses to cover staffing at its three local facilities, down from 570 during the October walkout. 

At all three hospitals, about 196 of the 316 staff RNs needed to cover the facilities reported to work on the first day of the strike. 

Jacobs said the central question for the union has always been patient care, as demonstrated in its actions against Kaiser and Catholic Healthcare West.