News & Events

Oct 20 2009 Nurses to Conduct One-Day Protest Strike Over H1N1 Pandemic

Article from the Daily Labor Report pasted below about a CNA/NNOC upcoming strike at California hospitals over readiness issues related to the H1N1 outbreak

Health Care Employees Nurses to Conduct One-Day Protest Strike Over ‘Poor Readiness’ for H1N1 Pandemic

Registered nurses represented by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee at 39 hospitals in California and Nevada plan to conduct a one-day strike Oct. 30 to protest what they say is “poor readiness” to confront the H1N1 flu pandemic, the union announced Oct. 19.

The union expects about 16,000 registered nurses at hospitals of three Catholic hospital chains to strike and picket at major facilities in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, Bakersfield, Stockton, and the Central Coast in California, and at facilities in Reno and Las Vegas in Nevada.

CNA is in collective bargaining negotiations with the three hospital chains where contracts expired June 30, a union spokesman told BNA. CNA plans work stoppages for 24 hours at 34 of the 39 hospitals and picketing at five of the hospitals, Chuck Idelson, CNA communications director, said Oct. 19. CNA and the hospitals have been in negotiations for months.

The hospitals are part of the Catholic Healthcare West, St. Joseph Health System, and Daughters of Charity Health System hospital chains.

Negotiations Scheduled Before Strikes Begin
Jill Furillo, CNA lead negotiator, RN, and director of CNA Catholic Facilities Division, said the contracts expired June 30.

The CHW and Daughters of Charity contracts have been extended to Oct. 29, one day before the planned strike, she said. The union has negotiations scheduled with those two hospital chains before Oct. 30, but not with St. Joseph, she told BNA. Most of the talks are still dealing with local issues and have not focused in depth on H1N1 safety yet, she said.

CNA is the nation’s largest union of registered nurses, representing 86,000 nurses in 50 states.

In response to the news of CNA’s planned strikes, Elizabeth Nikels, vice president of communications at the Daughters of Charity Health System, said Oct. 19 in a statement, “We are deeply disappointed that the nurses’ union now says they are striking over an issue that hasn’t been raised during the bargaining process.”

She added that the system’s hospitals “follow all recommendations from the California Department of Public Health, as well as CDC guidelines. Every one of our hospitals has in place an H1N1 preparedness plan to implement the necessary steps in the likelihood of an increase in the number of patients exhibiting flu symptoms. We have multiple levels of control in place to protect our staff, patients and visitors.”

CNA Outspoken for Months on Flu Safety
On June 11, 2009, the World Health Organization declared a worldwide pandemic, indicating uncontained community-level transmission of the H1N1 virus in multiple areas of the world.

CNA has been outspoken for months about its concerns about patient and worker safety surrounding the H1N1 flu virus, also known as swine flu. Last summer, the union conducted a survey of RNs in at 190 health care facilities in nine states and found that the nurses reported inadequate preparation for the flu epidemic this winter (169 DLR A-11, 9/3/09). The holes in the safety net identified through the survey were in training, patient isolation, room ventilation, infection control, access to N95 respirator masks, and antiviral supplies.

Earlier this year, a CNA-represented nurse with H1N1 flu employed at a hospital in Sacramento died, Idelson told BNA.

In announcing its strike plans, CNA said it “wants hospitals to formally adopt all [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and [California Occupational Safety and Health Association] guidelines to make them enforceable by CNA/NNOC contract provisions assuring the highest safety measures are met, and are uniform, consistently applied throughout the systems.”

“Central to the walkout is concern over the failure of the hospital chains to assure adequate safety precautions for patients, their families, nurses, and other healthcare employees for the escalating H1N1 ‘swine flu’ pandemic,” CNA said.

Specifically, the union said many hospitals are falling short on safe RN-to-patient staffing ratios as required under California law, are doing a poor job at isolating patients with H1N1 symptoms to limit contagion, and are not providing sufficient fit-tested N-95 respirator masks and other protective gear for health care workers and patients.

On Sept. 30, CNA issued its policy that the union said it would present to hospital management as bargaining demands to address health and safety related to vaccination against the H1N1 flu virus (195 DLR C-1, 10/13/09). The union has made the same recommendations as guidance to state regulators and legislators.

Besides the union’s strong recommendation that all registered nurses receive vaccination against the virus voluntarily, CNA guidelines call for improvements to hospital infection control procedures including a guarantee of an adequate supply of appropriate N-95 respirator masks and “thoughtful” isolation procedures. In addition, every nurse who contracts H1N1 must be cared for properly by the employing facility and local government with a guarantee of appropriate sick leave and eligibility for workers’ compensation, CNA said.

“Our hospital isn’t being proactive in preparing for the expected onslaught of H1N1 infected patients,” Kathy Dennis, RN at Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento, Calif., said in the CNA statement. “We must put the proper precautions in place now before flu season peaks, or we will be in serious trouble.”

‘Disappointed’ at CNA
At St. Joseph Health System, which has two hospitals where CNA plans strikes and one scheduled for picketing, Kevin Andrus, vice president of corporate communications, told BNA the hospitals are “fully prepared to treat all patients this flu season.” The hospitals employ best practices regarding the flu and have put in place several additional policies this year, he said.

St. Joseph Health System hospitals are offering free vaccines for voluntary staff inoculation against seasonal and H1N1 flu. The hospitals have purchased N-95 respirators for caregivers and patients. In addition, a network of all the system’s hospitals will support one another if more resources are needed in one area than another.

Hospital employees who are ill will be supported in remaining away from the facility, Andrus said. He added that the hospitals are committed to upholding all staffing ratios mandated by law.

“We are disappointed that the CNA is taking this course of action during the busy flu season,” he told BNA.
A representative of Mercy General Hospital was not available for comment.

By Susan R. Hobbs