Sutter Health nurses participated in a one-day May Day strike, including outside Berkeley's Alta Bates hospital. Photo: Elizabeth Hawk

In Berkeley and across the Bay Area employees have been taking to the streets today, May Day, to ensure their voices and grievances are heard.

Nurses from the Sutter Health system began protesting outside hospitals, including Alta Bates on Ashby Avenue, at 7:00am this morning and will continue until 7:00pm. The plan was that 4,500 registered nurses across the Sutter Health system would strike in order to protest what they term the “sweeping concessions” and “outrageous demands” made by the healthcare organization. They say the dozens of service cuts being required are endangering patient care.

It is the third strike in seven months by members of the California Nurses Association over contracts that have been under negotiation for nearly a year. At a one-day walk-out in September 2011, City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who attended the rally, said the cuts already implemented by Sutter were “a big issue for Berkeley”. “We’re very worried people will die if they continue to move facilities out of Berkeley,” he said.

A child takes part in the nurses' strike and the Berkeley Morris Dancers provide some entertainment. Photo: Elizabeth Hawk

The nurses say they are being asked to make contract concessions and cuts in care despite Sutter “making over $4 billion in profits since 2007, and handing its chief executive Pat Fry at 215%  pay hike to over $4 million a year, in addition to salaries of over $1 million a year to some 20 other top executives.” Read Northern California Registered Nurses’ full statement online.

Writing about the negotiations on a regularly update blog, Sutter Health cited numbers to show that many of its nurses do not support the strike. They said the crossover percentage of nurses for Alta Bates Summit Medical Center (including 51% crossover at Summit campus in Oakland) was 35%.

“We greatly value our nurses. An RN who works full-time at a hospital with an open labor contract earns on average $136,000 a year plus receives generous health benefits and an employer-paid pension,” read the statement on the blog.

As at previous walk-outs, Sutter has brought in replacement nurses, hired through agencies, who will typically take the place of the striking nurses for several days even though the protest is only planned for today.

“The replacement agencies typically require our hospitals to pay contract nurses for multiple days of work even though the union has called a strike for just one day.  Since we do not believe it makes financial sense to pay double for our striking nurses and contract nurses, these multi-day contract requirements usually mean that striking nurses miss several days of work,” Sutter said in its statement.

Also in Berkeley, Professional and Technical employees from UC Berkeley took part in a march which began at 12 noon today.

UC Berkeley employees took part in a May Day march which began at noon. Photo: Elizabeth Hawk

Nurses’ strike draws cheers and honking horns [09.22.11]

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...