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Sutter Hospital Workers Plan One-Day Strike: By MATTHEW ARTZ

Tuesday November 23, 2004

As many as 7,000 nurses and other hospital workers are planning to strike Dec. 1 at 14 Bay Area Sutter hospitals including Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, union leaders said Friday. 

At Alta Bates, which includes three campuses in Berkeley and Oakland, the striking workers could number up to 1,700, about 40 percent of the hospital’s staff. 

The California Nurses Association (CNA) and the Service Employee International Union (SEIU) Locals 250 and 707 called for the one-day walkout, arguing that Sutter continues to violate a state law that set staffing ratios for registered nurses and committed unfair labor practices. 

The strike is scheduled to begin at 6 a.m. on Wed., Dec. 1, and end at 6 a.m. the following day. Among the other affected hospitals are Saint Luke’s and California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch and Eden Medial Center in Castro Valley. In the case of a major emergency, union leaders said they would call off the strike.  

Announcement of the strike at Alta Bates comes one week after the hospital learned of findings that could potentially result the loss of its accreditation status needed to serve Medicare and Medicaid patients. The preliminary report from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations found the hospital lacking both in administrative procedures and patient care. 

“We hope to call attention to the fact that something is terribly wrong with this organization,” said John Brosos, vice president of SEIU Local 250. The union, which represents 1,200 radiology technicians, nurses’ assistants, licensed vocational nurses and others, has been without a contract since April 30. 

Alta Bates plans to lock out striking employees for five days and replace them with temporary workers, said hospital spokesperson Carolyn Kemp. She said she didn’t know which staffing firm Alta Bates had contracted with to hire the replacement workers. 

Nurses attending Friday’s press conference urged patients to avoid elective surgery during the strike. Kemp said Friday that Alta Bates had not yet decided whether or not to proceed with scheduled non-emergency procedures. 

Sutter last faced one-day strikes in 2001 when negotiations with SEIU stalled. The last joint CNA/SEIU strike at Sutter came in 1992. 

Borsos said SEIU is holding out for a stronger voice in staffing and a training fund to pay for employees to upgrade their skills. He insisted wages were not the primary issue at the bargaining table, saying that other hospitals in the state already offer employees the perks demanded by the union.  

CNA, which represents registered nurses and whose contracts have not expired, will stage sympathy strikes at five locations where their contract permits it. They argue that Sutter continues to violate a state law that went into effect this year which requires hospitals to have one registered nurse on duty for every six patients. 

“We don’t have the staff to give quality care at this hospital,” said Jan Rodolfo, a registered nurse at Summit Medical Center in Oakland. She said that although Sutter had improved staffing ratios since January, Summit continues to use licensed vocational nurses in place of more highly trained registered nurses.  

Alta Bates’ Kemp disputed the claims of both unions, insisting that Alta Bates is adhering to the state staffing law. She also said that the 12 unfair labor practices filed specifically against Alta Bates by SEIU had either been rejected by the National Labor Relations Board or withdrawn by the union. 

The next bargaining session is scheduled for this week between SEIU Local 250 and San Francisco’s California Pacific Medical Center. Although Sutter operates all of the hospitals targeted for the strike, each hospital negotiates contracts independently. Borsos said the two sides have failed to settle any terms of a new deal.