2011 News

23,000 California RNs to Strike Thursday

09.19.2011

Walkout to Protest Sutter’s Attack on RN Patient Advocacy Rights, Big Cuts in Nurses’ Healthcare, and to Support Kaiser Coworkers

Nearly 23,000 registered nurses will hold a one-day strike Thursday at 34 Northern and Central California hospitals saying they will not accept attacks on RN rights to speak out for patients or cuts in healthcare or retiree coverage for nurses or other hospital workers.

The walkout affects two of the biggest and wealthiest hospital chains in California, Sutter Health and Kaiser Permanente, as well as Children’s Hospital in Oakland. The RNs are members of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United.

Sutter nurses will be protesting up to 200 sweeping demands for concessions that they say would, among other concerns, restrict their ability to effectively advocate for patients against the budget-focused priorities of Sutter managers and effectively force nurses to work when sick, dangerously exposing extremely ill patients to infection.

Additionally, Sutter RNs oppose Sutter management’s bid to reduce nurses’ healthcare coverage and retiree health benefits, and a broad array of other contract concessions. The Sutter RNs are also protesting years of widespread cuts in patient care services that they say have restricted access to needed medical care for thousands of Northern California communities and left a trail of broken promises by Sutter executives.

At Kaiser, the RNs are walking out in a sympathy strike to support Kaiser co-workers who are facing management demands for deep cuts in their health coverage and retirement plans.

Children’s Oakland RNs will be on strike for the third time in a year over what they call punitive management efforts to cut their health coverage with demands they say would make it prohibitively expensive for nurses to bring their own children to get care at the hospital where they work.

Speaking for many striking RNs, Children’s RN Martha Kuhl, notes, “They are taking advantage of the economic times and trying to roll back improvements we have won over many years through our CNA contract.  Everyone deserves healthcare and if nurses can't afford healthcare, who will be able to? I am a caregiver and patient advocate and that extends into my community as well.”


 “Everyone deserves high-quality healthcare and retirement security, whether you are a registered nurse, another caregiver, or any other American. That should be the hallmark of a humane and caring society,” adds CNA Co-President Zenei Cortez, RN who heads the Kaiser CNA Joint Bargaining Council.

“We staunchly refuse to be silenced on patient care protections,” said Sharon Tobin, a RN at Sutter Mills-Peninsula in Burlingame. “A common theme throughout management’s proposals is removing our presence on committees that address important patient care issues and nursing practices.  As nurses, we speak up, and we insist on standards that safeguard our patients, but Sutter doesn’t want to hear about anything that might cut into their huge profits.”

Despite piling up $3.7 billion in profits the past six years, Sutter is demanding to:

  • End the ability of charge nurses, those who make clinical assignment, to effectively advocate for patients; they could be summarily removed by nurse managers for protecting patients.
  • Bar the voice of experienced bedside nurses in selecting computer (acuity) systems that are used to help determine staffing needs based on individual patient illness and need.
  • Subject RNs to discipline when hospital fails to meet arbitrary “patient satisfaction” goals that are based on budget priorities, not patient need.
  • Eliminate paid sick leave for RNs – a move that would force RNs to work when sick, exposing countless patients who already have compromised immune systems to enormous risk.
  • Accept thousands of dollars a year in additional out-of-pocket costs for healthcare for RNs and their families, and new restrictions on the ability of RNs to choose their own doctors.
  • Slash healthcare coverage, vacations, holiday pay, and education leave for all RNs who work fewer than 30 hours a week.
  • Reduce maternity leave for RNs.
  • Eliminate or sharply reduce retiree health coverage (varies by hospital).
  • Cut pay for newly hired RNs by $20 per hour, sharply eroding the future workforce as the most-qualified new RNs will certainly choose to work elsewhere.

“Sutter’s arrogance in these demands is paralleled by its severe cuts in patient services, especially those it deems less profitable regardless of how that affects patients,” said Efren Garza, a Behavioral Health RN at Alta Bates Summit who has seen psychiatric services slashed throughout the Sutter system.  “That is most evident in Sutter’s bid to close San Leandro Hospital and sharply reduce services at St. Luke’s Hospital in San Francisco, both hospitals that, not coincidentally, serve many low-income, working-class patients,” Garza said. 

Among Sutter’s additional abandonment of communities and patients, Sutter has moved to (partial list):

  • End breast cancer screening for women with disabilities and most bone marrow transplant services for cancer patients at Alta Bates Summit in Oakland and Berkeley.
  • Stop providing psychiatric services under contract with Sacramento County for more than 225 Sacramento children.
  • Close specialized pediatric care, acute rehabilitation, dialysis, and skilled nursing care services at Mills and Peninsula hospitals in Burlingame and San Mateo.
  • Close home health services and limit acute-care hospital stays in Lakeport.
  • Close acute rehabilitation services, skilled nursing care, and psychiatric services, and substantially downgrade nursery care for sick children at Eden Hospital in Castro Valley.
  • Sharply cut psychiatric care at Herrick Hospital in Berkeley.
  • Close a birthing center at Sutter Auburn Faith, forcing new mothers and families to travel up to 100 miles for obstetrics care, while giving a $1 million gift to the Sacramento Kings.
  • Close pediatric, psychiatric, lactation, and transitional care services in Santa Rosa.
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