Health Care Workers Launch Strikes at California Hospitals

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Tens of thousands of health care workers are expected to join strikes that are under way at dozens of medical centers around California, the AP/Forbes reports (Thanawala, AP/Forbes, 9/22).

The strikes are taking place at more than 30 not-for-profit hospitals that are managed by Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health and at the independently run Children's Hospital Oakland (Thanawala, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/22).

On Wednesday, about 2,500 nurses and other health care professionals went on strike as part of a three-day walkout highlighting labor disputes with Kaiser Permanente.

The employees are members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers. About 17,000 Kaiser nurses who are represented by the California Nurses Association have planned a 24-hour sympathy strike for Thursday. An additional 1,500 NUHW social workers, optical workers and therapists also plan to walk off the job in northern California (Gorman, Reuters, 9/21).

Details of Strikes

Leighton Woodhouse, a spokesperson for NUHW, said that the primary issue leading to the strike has been Kaiser's proposal to cut union members' health care coverage and retirement benefits at a time when Kaiser is reporting record earnings (Reuters, 9/21). The union also has argued that some facilities are understaffed (Crowe, Los Angeles Business Journal, 9/21).

John Borsos, NUHW vice president, said Kaiser has earned $5.7 billion over the past two years and $1.6 billion over the last six months from premium increases (Reuters, 9/21).

Meanwhile, a number of Sutter facilities are in negotiations with CNA (Selvam, Modern Healthcare, 9/21).

CNA officials said that the goal of the strike was to pressure Sutter to withdraw its proposals that would slash pay for new hires, reduce vacation time and holiday pay and harm nurses' ability to advocate for patients (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/22).

In addition, Children's Hospital nurses have been in negotiations since May 2010 (Modern Healthcare, 9/21). They have raised concerns about a proposed increase to a health plan offered by the hospital (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/22).

Hospitals' Response

Mark Costa, executive director of Kaiser's Los Angeles facility, called Kaiser's contract proposals "very competitive" and said Kaiser "meets and exceeds safe standards as they relate to nurse staffing ratios." He said NUHW has not responded with a counter offer (Reuters, 9/21).

Sutter spokesperson Karen Garner said the system offers nurses competitive wages but has an obligation to keep costs down for patients (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/22).

Children's Hospital, Kaiser and Sutter officials have noted that they have prepared for the strike, including hiring replacement nurses.

Sutter and Children's Hospital officials said nurses will not be able to return to work immediately after the strike because they have contracts with the replacement worker agencies requiring a certain number of days of service (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/22).

Broadcast Coverage

On Thursday, American Public Media's "Marketplace Morning Report" reported on the California health care workers' strike (Moon, "Marketplace Morning Report," American Public Media, 9/22).

James Roache PharmD
Interesting, 5.7 bil in "profit" for Kaiser. I do recall something about recent legislation that requires commercial plans to return the premium dollars that were not spent to pay for patient care that was in excess of 85% of the premium. "Yes, I do remember reading that somewhere." Perhaps the leglislation should be expanded since Kaiser readily competes with the traditional commercial plans. While we all know we can always count on the Florence Nightengale's to be the first 'profession' to go on strike (always for the patients benefit, of course) right along side the meat cutters and box boys, I am extremely disappointed when strikes that do affect patient care is their main avenue. While we all tire of more government, perhaps when union benefits or Kaiser profits are placed above patient safety, it is time for the feds to step in. Come to think of it, have federal negotiators been involved up to this point of a 2500 RN strike? "Been in negotiations since 5-10?" Get some new RN's.

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