By Bay City News Service
Thousands of registered nurses from eight Bay Area Sutter Health-managed hospitals are striking today and are planning to participate in rallies to protest a proposed decrease in their employer-covered health care expenses.
It is the third strike in seven months by members of the California Nurses Association over contracts that have been under negotiation for nearly a year.
Some 4,500 nurses went on strike 7 a.m. today, and plan to strike a full 24 hours, according to the nurses association.
Discussions have reached an impasse because nurses say Sutter is demanding that they forgo paid sick days and pay more toward their health care, among other requested concessions.
Sutter contends that nurses are highly paid, earning an average of $136,000 per year.
In a post Sutter published this morning on its "CNA Negotiations" blog, hospital officials said the nurses' demands for double-digit wage increases and free health care would increase costs by tens of millions of dollars.
"Despite the generous pay and benefits we provide our nurses, the California Nurses Union demands new benefits that will increase the cost of health care for our patients," the post reads.
Union spokesman Charles Idelson said Sutter, which has made billions of dollars in profits since 2007, has continually lied to its workers, making claims in print ads about the concessions that negotiators allegedly disavowed in a meeting with union leaders.
"They don't tell the truth," he said. "That's part of the problem that we have with this hospital."
Nurses are striking at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center facilities in Berkeley and Oakland, Mills-Peninsula Health Services hospital in Burlingame and San Mateo, Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, San Leandro Hospital, Sutter Delta in Antioch, Sutter Solano in Vallejo, Novato Community Hospital and Sutter Lakeside.
Several hospital representatives said that the strike had little impact on services because some nurses were crossing the picket lines.
Mary Strebig, of Novato Community Hospital, said that the 47-bed hospital required 11 nurses today and that four union members reported to work, representing a crossover of 36 percent.
Cindy Dove, communications manager at , said today was "pretty much business as usual," with 55 percent of nurses crossing over at the Castro Valley campus and 45 percent reporting for work at the San Leandro campus.
As with previous strikes, Sutter has brought in replacement nurses to ensure that it maintains a full staff that can offer the same level of service to its patients.
Although the nurses only plan to strike for 24 hours, Sutter has hired replacements for multiple days of work.
"Since we do not believe it makes financial sense to pay double for our striking nurses and contract nurses, these multi-day contract requirements usually mean that striking nurses miss several days of work," the organization wrote in this morning's blog post.
Noon rallies are scheduled to take place at Antioch's Sutter Delta and Castro Valley's Eden Medical Center, a 1 p.m. rally is scheduled at Oakland's Alta Bates campus, a 2 p.m. rally is scheduled on the Peninsula, and 3 p.m. rallies are scheduled at Sutter Lakeside and San Leandro Hospital, according to the nurses association.