Hospitals throughout the state were scrambling Thursday to re-schedule surgeries and bring in substitute workers, as thousands of nurses walked off the job in a strike organized by the California Nurses Association.
At issue is a growing dispute between the nurses' union and Sutter Health, which is seeking to have nurses pay more for their own health coverage and retirement benefits at its Bay Area hospitals. The hospital chain is also seeking to scale back the say nurses now have in in how patients are treated.
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The strike involves "sympathy" walkouts at Kaiser hospitals in both Northern and Southern California as well, even though Kaiser nurses represented by CNA recently reached agreement on a new labor pact.
In Southern California, nurses targeted the Kaiser Los Angeles Medical Center in Hollywood on Thursday. As many as 2,500 nurses are expected to take part in a three-day strike that ends Friday.
National Union of Healthcare workers are protesting concessions that Kaiser is seeking as part of labor talks affecting facilities in Los Angeles and San Diego. And they are counting on sympathy support from the larger California Nurses Association.
But given the timing in this economic climate, with unemployment still over 12 percent, critics wonder how much sympathy the public will have.
Sutter Hospital officials told the Sacramento Bee that their Bay Area registered nurses earn up to $136,000 annually, not counting benefits. Statewide, the paper reported, RNs make an average salary of $88,000.
Sutter says it's seeking concessions to keep the cost of patient care down. But the nurses' union says the hospital chain's profitability is up substantially and that the concessions are unnecessary.
Hospital officials say they don't believe the disruption will affect patient care. But in a time of economic distress, it leaves patients and their families questioning, who is looking out for their best interests?