Nurse Strike Numbers Disputed by Sutter, CNA Officials

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday March 25, 2008

Just how many Alta Bates Summit nurses have honored picket lines at the two Berkeley hospitals and Oakland’s Summit Medical Center remained an open question Monday. 

Members of the California Nurses Association (CNA) walked out Friday morning for the start of a 10-day strike against 11 hospitals in the Sutter Health chain. 

How many RNs are striking is a contested issue. While a Sutter e-mail to the media claimed that 57 percent of Summit Alta Bates reported for working Friday, it’s unclear just which nurses are being counted. 

In a press release from the company’s Sacramento headquarters, Sutter Health claimed Friday that “impressive numbers of registered nurses have rebuked” the union and returned to work as scheduled. 

The percentages of returning nurses, Sutter reported, ranged from a low of 31 percent at California Pacific Medical Center’s St. Luke’s campus in San Francisco to a high of 57 percent at Alta Bates Summit. 

“They are deliberately lying about those numbers,” said CNA activist Chuck Idelson, who said that 95 percent of Sutter RN’s are participating in the action, and that numbers are especially high at the three Summit Alta Bates facilities. 

While Sutter claims the strike is really about increasing union membership and revenues, the nurses contend the fight is about patient care standards and reduction of health care benefits. 

The current action, which began at 7 a.m. Friday, is the third and longest walkout called by the CNA since talks stalled between the hospitals and the union. Two other one-day walkouts were extended to five-day lockouts by the chain. 

Though all the hospitals are owned by one corporation, Sutter has fought all union attempts to win a system-wide contract. 

CNA represents only part of Sutter’s nursing staff, with licensed vocational nurses represented by the health care division of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). 

While the SEIU honored CNA picket lines during the first walkout, the two unions have since entered an ongoing feud. 

The strikers, who thronged the eastern corner of the hospital’s main driveway on Ashby Avenue Monday, were in good spirits, buoyed by frequent friendly honks from the cars of passing motorists. 


Money matters  

While Sutter is legally a non-profit, some of the salaries revealed in the corporation’s tax filings are on a par with those at for-profit corporations. 

For tax year 2005, the last year for which tax returns are available, outgoing president and CEO Van R. Johnson earned a salary of $2,309,575. Sutter’s organizational development executive, James Farrell, made $777,177, while the Alta Bates Summit CEO made a mere $581,679. 

The tax return lists 14 executives making over $500,000, including then-incoming CEO Patrick Fry, who made $1,371,464, mostly from his prior tenure as chief operating officer. 

One other executive reached the seven-figure level, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Gordon Hunt, with $1,019,089. 

While Alta Bates Summit public relations director Carolyn Kemp hasn’t returned calls from a Daily Planet reporter for more than a year, a hospital press release reported that average full-time pay for nurses at the hospitals “is more than $120,000 a year.” 

Sutter Health reported total revenues of $376.6 million for the year, against expenses of $380.8 million. During the same year, net assets increased from $508.5 million to $560.2 million.