The California Nurses Association (CNA), a wing of the National Nurses United labor union, organized informational pickets at 22 Kaiser medical centers across the state on Thursday after contracts expired with Kaiser Permanente Northern California the day before.
Outside the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center, nurses raised signs that read “Safe Staffing Now” and “Nurses Are the Heart of Patient Care” while chanting, “What do we do when patient care is under attack? Stand up, fight back!” A few cars honked in support and the nurses cheered in response.
Katy Roemer, an Oakland Kaiser nurse and CNA board member, said that the nurses organized the picket after Kaiser officials did not respond to staffing proposals submitted during contract negotiations. Rather than walking off the job, nurses joined the event Thursday during their breaks, before and after their shifts, and on their day off, said Roemer. She estimated 300 people participated in the picket during the two-hour rally.
According to the union’s press release, the proposals that the nurses have pushed for during the contract negotiations include increased staffing of registered nurses in hospitals, clinics, call centers and home health and hospice care, more hands-on training for all nurses, and better access for patients to nursing practitioners. Roemer said that Kaiser officials have not accepted the proposals and have been “pretty stoic at the table.”
“We want them to listen,” said Roemer. “We believe our proposals are absolutely reasonable and rational.”
Debora Catsavas, senior vice president for Kaiser Permanente Northern California, wrote in a statement released through email that: “Kaiser Permanente is bargaining in good faith to reach an agreement that supports our nonprofit mission to provide high quality, affordable health care and serves the interests of our nurses. We remain optimistic about reaching a fair agreement.”
The current contract will stay in effect until the nurses and management can come to an agreement, according to Roemer.
After the event, Roemer said that picket lines are a common tactic used by the union to raise awareness in the community and to escalate negotiations. “We have been in negotiations right now since mid-July, so for a number of months, we have done various kinds of actions to kind of draw attention to what we think the issues are so this is the next step forward,” she said.
In mid-July Kaiser officials and the nurses’ union began negotiations on the current contract that would expire on November 1.
A representative from the union said that during negotiations the nurses have made “over a dozen” proposals that they believe will improve patient care. They say that Kaiser has not agreed to any of the measures. In August, the group handed out flyers informing patients how they are working to improve their care and in September, they organized a statewide rally at 22 Kaiser medical centers to push for their proposals.
The nurses’ union will continue negotiations next week to see how Kaiser officials respond to the pickets, said Roemer.
“We’ll be back! We’ll be back!” the nurses shouted at the end of the picket. If Kaiser officials do not agree to the proposals, Roemer said that the union’s bargaining team would then decide what “we’ll be back” will look like in practice.