Thursday strike could be biggest in U.S. history
As many as 23,000 California nurses are planning a one-day strike on Thursday that could become the largest strike in U.S. history and affect operations at 34 hospitals throughout the state, the Vallejo Times-Herald reports.
Over the past year, unions have made significant inroads nationwide, Modern Healthcare reports. In the first half of 2011, unions held 85 elections and won 75% of them, according to a report from IRI Consultants and the American Hospital Association.
At the same time, unions have being waging more public battles with hospital administrators. According to Modern Healthcare, these battles often are caused by disagreements over whether contracts should mandate specific nurse-to-patient ratios. Last year, 12,000 hospital nurses went on strike for a day in Minnesota over nurse-to-patient ratios, prompting nurses across several states to organize their own strikes and walkouts.
Striking in California
The upcoming walkout—which would affect the Sutter Health and Kaiser Permanente systems–involves nearly 4,000 members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) and 5,000 members of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United (CNA). About 17,000 nurses and 2,000 stationary engineers at Kaiser also could participate in a sympathy strike to support NUHW.
According to NUHW leaders, Kaiser is seeking significant cuts in health care and retirement benefits for workers while posting profits in 2010. Meanwhile, CNA leaders have warned that Sutter's contract demands could negatively affect patient care and nursing standards. Specifically, CNA spokesperson Charles Idelson said Sutter has proposed eliminating paid sick leave and reducing health insurance benefits.
Kaiser and Sutter Health say their nurses are well-paid and that the cutbacks are an attempt to reduce costs during economically challenging times. Hospital officials have called the strike unnecessary and say it will inappropriately disrupt patient care.
Jan Emerson-Shea, a vice president at the California Hospital Association, said "[w]e don't see how taking 23,000 nurses out of hospitals having them walk the picket line advances quality patient care. They're putting access to care at over 30 hospitals at risk. In this economy, when is enough enough?"
The health systems plan to bring in replacement workers and remain open during the strike, and some facilities are planning to postpone elective surgeries (Kleffman, Times-Herald, 9/17; Robertson, Sacramento Business Journal, 9/16; Smith/Reese, Sacramento Bee, 9/20).