The Ashby campus of Alta Bates Summit Hospital, where nurses will be on strike tomorrow. Photo: Lance Knobel

Nurses at the two Alta Bates Summit hospital campuses in Berkeley will hold a one-day strike tomorrow to protest what they term “sweeping demands for concessions” on contract terms by Sutter Health, which owns Alta Bates Summit. Alta Bates Summit is bringing in contract nurses to cover for the strikers, and says patient care will not be affected.

“The strike is because of Sutter’s scorched-earth policy against patients, the community and nurses,” said Charles Idelson, spokesperson for the California Nurses Association (CNA), which has called the strike. “Nurses have been the main barrier to Sutter’s policies.”

Although the CNA has called a one-day strike, Sutter has organized a five-day contract with the companies providing replacement nurses. “If a nurse chooses to go out on Thursday,” said Alta Bates spokesperson Carolyn Kemp, “they will be welcome back on Tuesday.” There are a total of 1,800 nurses employed at the three campuses of Alta Bates Summit Medical Center: Ashby in the Elmwood, Herrick in Downtown Berkeley, and Summit in Oakland.

The CNA claims that Sutter Health’s demands in its negotiations with the nurses will cut health coverage for RNs who work fewer than 30 hours a week, eliminate paid sick leave for RNs, and cut pay for newly hired RNs by $20 an hour, as well as “end the ability of charge nurses… to effectively advocate for patients”. According to Kemp, the last claim is “simply not true”.

According to Sutter’s figures, the average full-time Sutter RN in the East Bay earns $136,000 annually, compared to the regional average of $103,000 for an RN. Kemp said nurses received a 22% increase in pay over the last three years. The CNA and Sutter have been bargaining for months over a new contract without success.

“The issue is that nurses are not willing to work collaboratively to help at this very tough economic time,” said Kemp. In response, Idelson points to the $3.7 billion surplus the not-for-profit Sutter has recorded in the last six years, and the million dollar-plus salaries for many of Sutter’s top executives.

“Sutter wants to take a hard line,” Idelson said. “They’ve spent too much time watching governors Scott Walker in Wisconsin and John Kasich in Ohio.” Both Republican governors have led visible anti-union drives in their states in the last year.

At the same time as the nurse’s strike against Sutter facilities, the CNA is also striking against Kaiser Permanente hospitals in Northern California and Children’s Hospital in Oakland, in sympathy with a one-day strike by 4,000 members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers. According to Gay Westfall, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, for Kaiser, the CNA-sanctioned work stoppage “is inconsistent with the CNA contract that just went into effect on September 1st”.

Like Alta Bates Summit, Kaiser says that patient care will not be compromised during the strike. In contrast to Alta Bates Summit, Kaiser is expecting striking nurses and NUHW workers to return on Friday.

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...