BAY AREA: 4,000 Workers at 10 Hospitals Set for One-Day Walkout
Nearly 4,000 workers are set for a one-day walkout at 10 Bay Area hospitals Thursday, in what union officials say will constitute the largest hospital strike in the region's history. Protesting low wages and staffing cutbacks, hospital receptionists, food service workers, nursing assistants and respiratory therapists represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 250 will stage walkouts at Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley; Summit Medical Center and Children's Hospital in Oakland; Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley; Sutter Solano Medical Center in Vallejo; St. Francis Memorial Hospital and St. Mary's Medical Center in San Francisco; Seton Medical Center in Daly City; Alameda Hospital in Alameda and Sutter Lakeside Hospital in Lake County. Although they are not in contract negotiations, some nurses also may join the picket lines in sympathy, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Putting Patients at Risk?
Hospital officials called the planned walkouts "reckless and irresponsible" acts that could weaken hospitals' ability to handle a major catastrophe. Robert Polzoni of Catholic Healthcare West, which operates three of the targeted hospitals, said, "They're putting patients in the Bay Area in a horrible position on July 6." But union officials say patients are already put at risk by low staffing levels. According to SEIU Local 250 President Sal Rosselli, hospitals routinely leave shifts uncovered when union workers call in sick and do not fill vacant positions. The union is demanding that hospitals include health care workers on committees that make binding recommendations on staffing decisions. In addition, the union is asking that workers receive wages that at least match those paid by Kaiser Permanente. Rosselli said, "We're creating this crisis to force hospitals to change. Our workers see unnecessary pain and suffering because of their care delivery system" (St. John, 7/3). Sutter Health spokesperson Bill Gleeson countered that the "union continues to demand control over operation of our hospitals via control over staffing, and that's not acceptable." Sutter owns five of the targeted hospitals (Feder, San Jose Mercury News, 7/4). Referring to the ongoing strike at Stanford Medical Center and Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto, where 1,730 nurses have been off the job since June 7, Gleeson added, "With the nurses' strike affecting the other hospitals, the fact that the union would target 10 more hospitals just confounds me" (Norberg, Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, 7/4). Federal mediators met Monday with workers and officials from CHW to try to avert the strike, but the results of the meeting are still unknown. Meanwhile, talks between the union and four Sutter Health hospitals are set to resume today (St. John/Workman, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/4). However, Rosselli said that the planned strike was still "very likely" (San Jose Mercury News, 7/4).
To prepare for the walkouts, targeted hospitals have begun to scale back elective surgeries and admissions, although emergency rooms will remain open. Meanwhile, state regulators plan to visit the hospitals tomorrow to ensure that patient care is not compromised (San Francisco Chronicle, 7/3). As further precautions, some patients have been transferred to nonstriking hospitals, and pregnant women have been advised to keep close contact with doctors so they know which hospital to attend. Officials also are concerned about a potential walkout by nurses, the Contra Costa Times reports. Maggie Gerk, vice president of patient care services for Alta Bates Medical Center, said, "We are especially urging our registered nurses to come to work. They recently ratified their new contract, and we need them here to take care of the patients." She added, "This could become a crisis situation" (Vorderbrueggen, 7/4).