Caregivers demand voice in patient care

Some 7,000 nurses, food service staff, housekeepers, clerks, lab technicians and other health care workers at 13 northern California Sutter hospitals returned to their jobs Dec. 6 after the company had locked them out for four days.

The lockout was in retaliation for the workers’ one-day strike Dec. 1 to highlight their demands in months-long contract talks. Heading the list are a real voice for workers in staffing and patient care, and a fund for worker training and education.

“Sutter tried unsuccessfully to divide us and punish registered nurses and caregivers for standing up for better patient care,” California Nurses Association Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro and Health Care Workers Union SEIU 250 President Sal Rosselli said in a joint statement. “We are united and determined to make Sutter put patients first,” they added, as they called on Sutter to abide by California’s law governing the ratio of registered nurses to patients and agree to the standards other area hospitals have accepted.

Local 250 Vice President John Borsos said the hospital chain is so interested in making money that it has become “the worst in virtually every category,” rejecting standards agreed to by every other hospital including caregivers’ voice in staffing and the training fund. Borsos noted that the hospital chain has also racked up nearly 100 labor law violations. “Thousands of caregivers stood up to Sutter in their successful strike,” he said, adding that the locked out workers received wide support from other unions.

Publicly expressing support for the caregivers were major area elected officials including Congressmembers Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Lee, and state Sen. Don Perata. Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown accompanied union members when they unsuccessfully sought to return to work Dec. 2. At a special meeting the same day, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to place a resolution on its Dec. 14 agenda, calling on Sutter to “adopt new policies to better meet patient and caregiver needs.”

On Dec. 3, SEIU Local 250 filed a lawsuit in San Francisco County Superior Court against Sutter, California Pacific Medical Center and Modern Industrial Services Inc., charging that replacement workers hired during the strike and lockout had not been told about the labor dispute.

Sutter facilities involved in the labor dispute include California Pacific Medical Center, St. Luke’s Hospital in San Francisco; Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley and Oakland; Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley; Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch; Sutter Solano Medical Center in Vallejo; Sutter Lakeside Hospital in Lakeport; and Sutter Medical Center and Sutter Warrack in Santa Rosa.

At press time, no new talks were scheduled. Involved are multiple contracts with expiration dates ranging from last April 30 through Nov. 22.

Meanwhile, nurses and other caregivers represented by CNA and two SEIU locals said they planned to picket Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger outside his Women’s Conference Dec. 7 in Long Beach, to protest the governor’s executive order last month rolling back key provisions of California’s law on RN staffing in hospitals.

The author can be reached at mbechtel@pww.org.