California Healthline Daily Edition

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Health Care Workers Launch Strikes at California Hospitals

Tens of thousands of health care workers are expected to join strikes that are under way at dozens of medical centers around California, the AP/Forbes reports (Thanawala, AP/Forbes, 9/22).

The strikes are taking place at more than 30 not-for-profit hospitals that are managed by Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health and at the independently run Children's Hospital Oakland (Thanawala, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/22).

On Wednesday, about 2,500 nurses and other health care professionals went on strike as part of a three-day walkout highlighting labor disputes with Kaiser Permanente.

The employees are members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers. About 17,000 Kaiser nurses who are represented by the California Nurses Association have planned a 24-hour sympathy strike for Thursday. An additional 1,500 NUHW social workers, optical workers and therapists also plan to walk off the job in northern California (Gorman, Reuters, 9/21).

Details of Strikes

Leighton Woodhouse, a spokesperson for NUHW, said that the primary issue leading to the strike has been Kaiser's proposal to cut union members' health care coverage and retirement benefits at a time when Kaiser is reporting record earnings (Reuters, 9/21). The union also has argued that some facilities are understaffed (Crowe, Los Angeles Business Journal, 9/21).

John Borsos, NUHW vice president, said Kaiser has earned $5.7 billion over the past two years and $1.6 billion over the last six months from premium increases (Reuters, 9/21).

Meanwhile, a number of Sutter facilities are in negotiations with CNA (Selvam, Modern Healthcare, 9/21).

CNA officials said that the goal of the strike was to pressure Sutter to withdraw its proposals that would slash pay for new hires, reduce vacation time and holiday pay and harm nurses' ability to advocate for patients (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/22).

In addition, Children's Hospital nurses have been in negotiations since May 2010 (Modern Healthcare, 9/21). They have raised concerns about a proposed increase to a health plan offered by the hospital (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/22).

Hospitals' Response

Mark Costa, executive director of Kaiser's Los Angeles facility, called Kaiser's contract proposals "very competitive" and said Kaiser "meets and exceeds safe standards as they relate to nurse staffing ratios." He said NUHW has not responded with a counter offer (Reuters, 9/21).

Sutter spokesperson Karen Garner said the system offers nurses competitive wages but has an obligation to keep costs down for patients (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/22).

Children's Hospital, Kaiser and Sutter officials have noted that they have prepared for the strike, including hiring replacement nurses.

Sutter and Children's Hospital officials said nurses will not be able to return to work immediately after the strike because they have contracts with the replacement worker agencies requiring a certain number of days of service (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/22).

Broadcast Coverage

On Thursday, American Public Media's "Marketplace Morning Report" reported on the California health care workers' strike (Moon, "Marketplace Morning Report," American Public Media, 9/22).

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