Hospitals to lockout striking nurses

December 23, 2011 - 4:55 AM
Calif Nurses Strike

Eric Koch, a critical care nurse, speaks to fellow nurses dressed as "The Grinch" from the the Dr. Seuss children's books at Alta Bates Summer Medical Center, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011 in Berkeley, Calif. Nurses in California staged a one-day walkout Thursday in the latest dispute with management over staffing levels, health care costs and sick leave. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Hospital officials say nurses who staged a one-day strike against nine hospitals in the San Francisco Bay area and Los Angeles will not be allowed to return to work Friday.

Thursday's strike — the second in three months — and the planned lockout are the latest in a series of disputes between nurses and hospital management over health care costs, staffing levels and sick leave.

The California Nurses Association — the union behind the walkout — had expected 6,000 nurses at nine hospitals in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas to participate in the strike. A hospital official said a "significant number" of nurses had crossed the picket lines.

The San Francisco Bay area hospitals targeted by the nurses are controlled by Sutter Health. The nurses' contract with Sutter expired about six months ago, and union officials have objected to changes in paid sick leave and health care premiums proposed by Sutter.

In Southern California, nurses at Long Beach Memorial Hospital and adjoining Miller Children's Hospital, which are not controlled by Sutter Health, have raised concerns about staffing levels they say don't allow them to take meal and rest breaks.

Both hospital systems said they would lock out striking nurses for additional days because their contracts with replacement nurses require a minimum number of days of service.

Hospital officials said replacement nurses had been brought in and patient care was not immediately affected.

Nurses at the Sutter hospitals would be allowed to return to work on Saturday, spokeswoman Karen Garner said. Nurses at the Long Beach hospital would be allowed to return Tuesday.

A union official blasted the hospitals for refusing to allow nurses to immediately return, and said the quality of patient care would suffer during a lockout.

"For a one-day strike, it's unwarranted, it's unnecessary and it's punitive," said Charles Idelson, a spokesman for the association.

Hospital officials criticized the union for calling the strike just before Christmas.

"It's unfortunate and disappointing that the union called this disruptive strike, especially during the holidays, when only the sickest of the sick are in the hospital, Sutter spokeswoman Kami Lloyd said in a statement late Thursday.

Lloyd did not have an exact number of the nurses who crossed picket lines during the strike but said 63 percent of the nurses at the Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch crossed picket lines, while 59 percent went to work at the Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley.

Union officials disputed the hospital's numbers, but could not say how many nurses participated in the strike.

In Oakland, dozens of nurses picketed Thursday outside Alta Bates Summit Medical Center. They chanted and carried signs that read "RNs on strike for patient care."

Leslie Silket, a registered nurse and union representative, said she had worked at the center for 21 years.

"Today's strike is to let Sutter know that we are standing solid in solidarity to fight back their corporate greed," said Silket, 44. "We are fighting for our patients. We are fighting for our contract."

Sutter Health says its full-time nurses receive an average salary of $136,000 a year and have the option of a 100 percent employer-paid health benefits package.

"They're doing pretty darn well," said Dr. Steve O'Brien, vice president of medical affairs at Alta Bates.

Nurses at the Sutter hospitals also went on strike in September. That strike, which union officials said involved 23,000 nurses, also affected hospitals run by Kaiser Permanente and the independent Children's Hospital Oakland.