on-strike.jpgTens of thousands of Northern and Central California nurses are striking today to protest hospitals’ proposed labor concessions and other grievances that they say are unnecessary and unwarranted.

As picketing RNs in the Bay Area held rallies and marches, hospital officials said their facilities are still functional with the aid of replacement nurses and those who have crossed the picket lines in the 24-hour strike.

Nurses are striking at the region’s two largest hospital chains, Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health, and at Children’s Hospital in Oakland, among other hospitals.

Many of the estimated 23,000 workers striking today–including those in the Sutter system–are in the middle of contract negotiations, while Kaiser nurses walked off the job today in a sympathy strike, according to a California Nurses Association statement.

“The picket lines are huge,” CNA spokesman Charles Idelson said this morning, as thousands of nurses geared up for a march and rally at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley and a 2 p.m. rally at Mills-Peninsula Medical Center in Burlingame.

Idelson said the RNs who are picketing today are protesting hospitals’ proposed cuts to health care and retiree coverage for themselves and other hospital workers, plus restrictions on their ability to advocate for patients.

Yet Bay Area hospital officials said this morning that there has been no major impact on operations.

Dr. Steve O’Brien, Alta Bates’ vice president of medical affairs, said that both the Oakland and Berkeley campuses are operating just as well, if not better, than usual.

“Things are running very smoothly, we’re very well-staffed,” he said, noting that the replacement nurses helping to fill striking workers’ shoes today are all experienced RNs, many of whom have worked at the local Sutter hospitals before.

A number of the Sutter-affiliated hospitals’ nurses also crossed the picket lines today, he said.

Erin Goldsmith, a spokeswoman for Children’s Hospital and Research Center Oakland, said that while about 700 of the hospital’s nurses are California Nurses Association members, about 125 of them crossed the picket line today.

Elective surgeries at the hospital have been postponed today, but emergency services are fully functional, she said.

Idelson said hospitals’ “long list of demands” under current contract negotiations include an attempt to roll back hard-won RN rights and to limit nurses’ input regarding patient care, in addition to cutting benefits.

O’Brien said he is puzzled by today’s strike and said that Sutter’s nurses are “among the highest-compensated in the country,” with the average nurse there earning $136,000 yearly.

He said Sutter nurses who want a “Cadillac (health care) plan” are being asked for the first time to contribute $14 per pay period, but that other benefits would still be fully employer-funded.

“We’re going to welcome them back when they come back–this is a temporary thing,” he said.

Laura Dixon, Bay City News

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