Nurses at Children’s Hospital in Oakland have approved a five-day strike amid contract negotiations with the hospital administration over pension and healthcare benefits.
The California Nurses Association, which represents the nurses, has been in contract negotiations with Children’s since last May, and the union went on strike for three days last October when discussions over wages broke down. At the center of the conflict now are cuts to benefits and guaranteed weekends off for nurses with 20 years of experience. Under the hospital’s current proposals, nurses would have to pay an additional $4,000 per year in healthcare premiums as well as higher deductibles and co-pays.
In a statement, Nancy Shibata, Children’s chief nursing officer, called the proposals fair and competitive. “These proposals are crucial to Children’s long-term viability,” she said.
The hospital values the nurses, Shibata said, “but we are disappointed that the Union leaders continue to be out of touch and choose to ignore the nation’s current economic realities and Children’s Hospital Oakland’s current financial situation.”
Martha Kuhl, an oncology and hematology transplant nurse who has been at Children’s for nearly 30 years, said this is not the case. “CNA represents most of the other private Bay Area hospitals so we have fairly specific data about their contracts, and our contract is falling far behind,” she said.
At the bargaining table, Kuhl said, union representatives asked the administration if the hospital would have to close or seriously cut staff without the concessions. “They said no, that’s not true,” she said.
According to Kuhl, the hospital is asking CNA nurses for pension and healthcare concessions to bring union nurses benefits in line with non-union workers at the hospital.
“They think it’s a matter of equity,” she said. “We think that’s backwards.”
CNA proposed a wage freeze and a number of alternatives to help defray healthcare costs, including pursuing federal money available from federal healthcare reform, and allying with other hospitals to cover their employees’ children while Children’s nurses use their adult care services. But the administration has rejected those proposals, Kuhl said.
“We want the hospital to be financially stable, we want our jobs to be secure and we want patients to get quality care,” she said. “A strike is the last thing nurses want, but we feel that we have to hold the line and that the employer is pushing us to a place we should not go.”
The union has not set a date for the strike, and contract negotiations will resume next week.