BAY AREA: Hospital Workers Begin One-Day Strike
Nearly 4,000 health care workers at 10 Bay Area hospitals went on a one-day strike this morning after negotiations late yesterday between the hospitals and union representatives failed to resolve conflicts over various issues, including staffing, pensions and job security. The workers, represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 250, include licensed vocational nurses, respiratory therapists and other dietary, housekeeping and clerical workers (McMillan, Contra Costa Times, 7/6). Officials at the targeted hospitals, including three Catholic Healthcare West facilities, two independent hospitals and five Sutter Health hospitals, called the strike a "'reckless and tragic' disregard for patient care" (Seyfer, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 7/6). They charge that SEIU Local 250 has stalled negotiations with "unreasonable demands aimed at strengthening union power and fattening already generous pay packets" (Reuters/CNN.com, 7/6). Gil Silbernagel, CEO of Sutter Lakeside Hospital, added, "This is a method by the union to attract national attention for their plan to assure lifetime employment for their members, as well as to get multiple hospital contracts." But SEIU Local 250 President Sal Rosselli countered, "Staffing has decreased dramatically over the years. ... It's all about money to [hospitals]. That's the real danger to patient care" (Rose, Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, 7/6). But Wanda Jones, an industry analyst with New Century Health Care Institute, said the strikers are ignoring the hospitals' financial woes, brought on by reduced Medicaid and insurance reimbursements. Some nurses are expected to join the strike to show their sympathy (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 7/6).
Also fueling the battle between the two sides is a "public relations war that combines old-fashioned name-calling with meticulous strategy." Each has cast the other side as the "enemy to quality patient care." The union charges that the hospitals' ad campaign smacks of "[u]nprecedented viciousness," while hospitals allege that union ads "don't tell the truth" (Antonucci, San Jose Mercury News, 7/6). One union ad states that "despite chronic short staffing, repeated threats to their job security, inadequate retirement benefits and vigorous employer campaigns to deny them a voice on the job," striking workers continued to work hard (St.John/Lynem/Pimentel, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/6). But Robert Polzoni, spokesperson for Catholic Healthcare West, said the union allegations are "unfounded" and "misconceptions." Jones added that union workers "have to put a gloss on [the strike] so it doesn't look as self-serving" (San Jose Mercury News, 7/6).