As more than 26,000 Northern California health care professionals prepare to strike at 34 medical centers, including several in the Bay Area, officials at the largest health organizations affected say patient services will continue with minimal interruption.
The strike is planned for 7 a.m. today through 7 a.m. Friday, with picket lines and rallies scheduled at affected facilities throughout the day. The California Nurses Association and National Union of Healthcare Workers are leading the strike against Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health, organizations with which the unions have contract disputes.
Kaiser Permanente hospitals rescheduled elective surgeries planned for today and Sutter Health contracted temporary nursing agencies to replace striking workers, but medical centers run by both organizations will remain open through the strike.
“Our patients can be confident they will be safe and well cared for,” said Deborah Goodin, vice president of human resources for Mills-Peninsula Medical Center, a Sutter facility. “We will get through the next five days just supporting the community as we’re committed to doing.”
The temp agency that Mills-Peninsula hired required a contract of five days, which means nurses who strike at the hospital will not be able to return to work until Tuesday, Goodin said. The measure was necessary to ensure the medical center is able to provide full care without higher cost, she said.
Kaiser notified patients that emergency rooms, pharmacies and medical offices would remain open through the strike, but rescheduled elective surgeries to ensure enough nurses were available to staff all offices. Debbie Raymond, chief nursing officer for Kaiser Permanente San Francisco, could not say how many patients would be affected by the surgery rescheduling.
The strikes hinge on contract negotiations between Sutter and the California Nurses Association, and between Kaiser and the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents mental health and optical professionals in California. The nurses association is also negotiating with Children’s Hospital in Oakland, and will strike at that facility.
CNA leaders say that Sutter’s contract proposals make cuts to health care and retirement benefits for nurses and limit their ability to advocate for patients, while Sutter representatives argue that the concessions they are asking of the nurses union are in line with cuts that have already been made for other hospital staff and are necessary to reduce operating costs.
“It seems to be an agenda that essentially does away with many nurses’ working conditions rights and patient protection,” said Deborah Burger, president of the CNA and National Nurses United.
Reductions in health care benefits for employees is also a sticking point for the NUHW, whose leadership is also concerned that Kaiser’s proposals do not address staffing shortages, said NUHW spokesman Paul Kumar.
A total of 23,000 CNA members plan to strike against Sutter hospitals and Children’s Hospital, as well as in solidarity with 1,500 NUHW members in Northern California who are striking at Kaiser. An additional 2,000 stationary engineers in Northern California will join the strike against Kaiser, Kumar said.
Area hospitals that will be affected by health care workers’ strikes and picket lines: