Five-day walkout at Children’s Hospital Oakland planned for May 5
on April 22, 2011
After nearly a year of contract negotiations, Children’s Hospital Oakland nurses and administrators are at an impasse over benefits and the nurses are now poised for a strike. They will go back to the bargaining table early next week, but if they don’t come closer to a compromise, they will stage a five-day walkout starting May 5. The strike would be their second in the same contract negotiation cycle; Children’s nurses staged a three-day strike last October.
Liz Jacobs, a spokesperson for California Nurses Association (CNA), the union that represents the nurses at Children’s Hospital, said she thinks most of the nurses at Children’s Hospital would walk out if it comes to a strike. “They’re very unified,” she said.
If nurses walk out, the hospital would likely hire temporary nurses, redirect managers to do patient care, and cancel elective procedures, said Jacobs. While the strike would be disruptive to the hospital, Jacobs said patient care would not suffer.
“Nurses have a professional and legal obligation to be patient advocates and not leave patients in jeopardy,” she said. When CNA nurses strike, she said, they organize a patient protection task force that makes sure specialized nurses are available to leave the picket line and go into the hospital if they are needed during an emergency situation. “No one’s going to leave anyone in jeopardy,” she said.
Nurses and the hospital administration are at loggerheads over benefits concessions, and the union approved a strike earlier this week. The hospital wants nurses pay an additional $4,000 a year for healthcare premiums, and wants to eliminate guaranteed weekends off for senior nursing staff.
Erin Goldsmith, a spokesperson for Children’s Hospital Oakland, said that under the proposed agreement, nurses would still have an option for employer-paid care, but would be restricted to using Oakland-based Kaiser as their insurer. If they wanted non-Kaiser options, they would have to pay either 15 percent of their costs or get a high-deductible PPO, which is the same deal non-union hospital staff have, Goldsmith said. In a press statement, Children’s Hospital said the changes are necessary for the financial viability of the hospital.
But Martha Kuhl, who is on the union’s bargaining team, said the concessions are based on ideology rather than fiscal need. “They have imposed these concessions on non-union workers already and they think it’s a matter of equity that they impose it on union workers,” she said.
She said that, under the proposed deal, if nurses wanted to keep their employer-funded health program, they would not be able to bring their own children to Children’s Hospital, and that’s a major sticking point for the union. “We believe that we give really great care, and nurses with children want to receive that care too,” Kuhl said.
Nurses have to give ten days notice of a walkout, and Kuhl said she hopes both sides can make a compromise before that. “If we were to start to make good progress we could either delay the date if we weren’t able to get back to the table, or rescind the notice and go back to the members. We have gone all night before to get a settlement.”
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