BAY AREA: Hospital Workers Head Back to Work After One-Day Strike
As expected, 4,000 workers at 10 Northern California hospitals yesterday went on a 24-hour strike, protesting "worsening working conditions and declining health care standards," the Los Angeles Times reports. In what was considered the Bay Area's largest one-day strike, employees from five Sutter Health hospitals, three Catholic Healthcare West hospitals and two independent hospitals walked off their jobs at 6 a.m. Thursday, returning at 6 a.m. today. The hospitals' emergency rooms remained open during the strike, but many facilities were forced to cancel elective surgeries, suspend outpatient services and hire temporary workers. Carol Kemp, spokesperson for Oakland-based Summit Medical Center and Berkeley-based Alta Bates Medical Center, said the two facilities canceled 400 elective procedures and transferred 50 patients -- including 29 children -- to other hospitals (Glionna/Marquis, 7/7). Despite "grave precautions of a regional health care crisis" as a result of the strike, the hospitals reported a "relatively smooth day" (Feder/Kuruvila/Neufeld, San Jose Mercury News, 7/7). Sutter Health spokesperson Bill Gleeson said, "We had a loyal contingent of employees who have helped us to get through, but (the union) really put public health at risk" (Fisher, Sacramento Bee, 7/7). Sutter Lakeside Hospital CEO Gil Silbernagel added, "I'm pleased to say the staff was very well prepared, that we were fully operational in all areas and that it was business as usual" (Rose, Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, 7/7).
A Necessary Strike?
Hospital officials called the strike "a dangerous and irresponsible piece of grandstanding that could imperil local health care." However, workers maintained that the strike was necessary to air their grievances about staffing and pay levels. Sal Roselli, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 250, said, "Management forced this strike because they want to put profits in their pockets instead of working with employees to change health care for the better" (Reuters/USA Today, 7/7). Claiming that area hospitals have made million of dollars in recent years, Roselli added, "We're going to force corporate health care to put decisions back in the hands of nurses, doctors and other health care workers." But Dr. Barry Horn, medical staff president at Alta Bates Medical Center, denied the claim, arguing that the San Francisco Bay Area is "headed for a health care crisis within the next decade" (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/7).