OAKLAND, Calif. — Union nurses at Sutter Alta Bates hospitals here and in Berkeley concluded a nine-day strike on New Year’s Day with rallies at both locations. Some 1,800 members of the California Nurses Association had turned down hospital bosses’ proposed contract demands because they didn’t adequately address key issues of staffing and wages. Nurses at 16 other Sutter units had approved the contract.
“We are overworked and understaffed. And there is a huge turnover of nurses. That’s the big issue,” nurse David Wong told the Militant at the Oakland rally. “Double shifts, after 16 hours of work, what kind of patient care can you give with that?” his wife added.
The nurses were joined by their husbands, wives, children and supporters. They carried out an ambitious schedule of picket line activities, including family days, pet days, musical days and community outreach, despite heavy rain all week. Breakfast and lunch were provided daily. And a union committee was set up to handle requests for emergency medical assistance from hospital staff. But the company hasn’t budged on its demands.
Nurses’ fight wins respect
“Our fight continues,” union representative Mike Hill told participants. “We nurses are respected by the public because we tell the truth.”
Among the supporters was a group from Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 125, led by Vice President Bao-Jun Button. She gave strikers a BCTGM union emblem signed by dozens from the Safeway bread factory and a Safeway store. “Go Bakers!” the nurses cheered in appreciation.
Intensive care nurse Nishel Lawrence said many nurses have left Sutter to work at the nearby Kaiser Permanente hospital where wages are higher. Registered nurses there are also members of the California Nurses Association and recently ratified a contract with wage gains and a company promise to create more than 2,000 new nurse and nurse-practitioner positions systemwide.
Myra Juarez, a part-time nurse at Sutter who also teaches nursing, compared what they are fighting for with the situation of rail workers’ unsustainable schedules and hours. “I love nursing,” she said. “It’s a calling. And I see the young nurses coming up so eager. But the turnover of nurses has been tremendous. It’s because of understaffing.”
Area hospital closures have added to understaffing. Before coming to Sutter in Oakland, Juarez was a nurse at Doctors Medical Center in Richmond, which closed in 2015. “As a result,” she said, “people have died.”
Sutter said it plans to close Alta Bates Berkeley campus, with 300 beds. The union is fighting to keep it open.
“People will now have to travel further through traffic in emergencies to come to Oakland,” said Berkeley nurse Ampy Carr at the rally with her husband and three children. “It’s already been a disaster without enough beds, even without Berkeley closing.”
Betsey Stone contributed to this article.