Children’s Hospital nursing strike imminent after bargaining talks cancelled
on April 27, 2011
A nurses strike at Children’s Hospital Oakland seems inevitable after the last bargaining meeting with hospital administration was canceled yesterday. After nearly a year of negotiations, Children’s Hospital nurses still don’t have a contract. Last week, they said they would start a five-day strike on May 5 if a deal is not reached, and Tuesday was the last scheduled day at the bargaining table.
Children’s Hospital spokeswoman Erin Goldsmith said the hospital canceled the meeting because staff needed the time to prepare for a strike. “We really needed to focus our efforts on planning and preparing for the strike to make sure that we continue to provide quality patient care,” she said.
Wendy Bloom, who is on the nurses’ bargaining team, said the hospital’s move was political. “It’s most likely a punitive action to let us know that they’re not happy with our decision” to announce strike dates, she said.
Bloom said the bargaining team sent an email to the hospital’s administration saying that they are available to meet “at any time, anywhere,” to avert the walkout. “We really, really want to get a settlement,” she said. “We have in the past had meetings called and then negotiated all night. But at this point we don’t have any dates so I don’t know what more we can do.”
In the meantime, Bloom said nurses have started their own preparations for the picket line by making signs, writing leaflets, rallying the nurses and reaching out for political support. “We want to make sure we can get the strongest strike that we can if we go out there,” she said.
Over 700 nurses at Children’s Hospital are represented by the California Nurses Association. The hospital wants nurses to give up some of their healthcare rights, giving them the same benefits package that non-union staff at the hospital have. But the nurses say under this arrangement, they would have to pay an additional $4,000 per year or take a high-deductible PPO if they wanted to bring their own children to Children’s Hospital. They would have an employee-funded option, but would have to use Kaiser as their insurer. The hospital also wants to cut guaranteed weekends off for nurses with more than 20 years experience.
Hospital administrators said that these concessions are necessary to stabilize Children’s Hospital’s rising healthcare costs, but the nurses charge that the cuts are based on ideology and wanting to bring union nurses benefits packages down to the levels provided to non-union hospital staff. This would be the nurses’ second strike since they began contract negotiations nearly a year ago.
Both the nurses and the hospital say they are committed to providing care to their patients in the event of a strike. If the nurses walk out next Thursday, the hospital will bring in temporary nursing staff and re-arrange nursing management to compensate, said Goldsmith. Martha Kuhl, a nurse, said the union nurses will also have a patient protection task force of on-call specialized nurses in case the hospital needs them.
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