Nurses set to walk out on May 17 

Nurses at the county-run hospital will walk off the job for two days beginning next Wednesday, if a last-minute agreement on salary and benefits isn't reached, nurses union representatives announced Monday.

It will be the first such strike in the county's history, if the 380 county nurses represented by the California Nurses Association, follow through on their 10-day strike vote, ratified Saturday. A strike of that magnitude has the potential to affect thousands, forcing the cancellation of clinic appointments, closing the county-run hospital to new admissions and suspending nonemergency surgeries, officials said.

"We will make arrangements for patients who need services not offered at San Mateo Medical Center to get them elsewhere," San Mateo Medical Center spokesman Dave Hook said. Patients who are affected by service cancellations will be contacted directly if a strike occurs, he said.

Nurses and the county are at loggerheads on salary and benefits, including proposals by the county to shift more health benefits costs to nurses, limit the amount of overtime pay, and increase salaries for difficult-to-recruit positions above those of other nurses.

"We're not doing this out of anger, but I'm incredulous that we're not appreciated," said Maria Gonzalez, a 20-year nurse practitioner.

"It's very ironic that we're here during National Nurse's Week announcing a 10-day notice to strike," area CNA representative Joanne Jung said. The nurses union called for the strike after 18 meetings spaced over three months with the county.

Negotiators for the county called the current CNA proposal of across-the-board salary increases of more than 29 percent untenable. "It would cost the county an additional $29 million over three years," assistant personnel director Tim Sullivan said. The county already spends about $44 million a year on salary and benefits for nurses.

Low salaries and diminishing benefits — compared to other Peninsula hospitals — have led to high turnover rates and large numbers of temporary staff among county nurses, Jung said. The county maintains that nurses' salaries and turnover rates are comparable with surrounding counties.

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