By: Emily Andrews
CALIFORNIA – On Monday April 18, 8,000 nurses and health care workers throughout Northern California carried out their planned one-day strike. This strike was on account of staffing shortages and COVID-19 related issues at several Sutter Health locations.
The strike came to fruition after a nearly unanimous strike authorization in March by the California Nurses Association (CNA). According to the CNA, the nurses alerted Sutter Health of their plans to picket 10 days prior to the strike on March 4.
The organization Sutter Health, a not-for-profit medical care system headquartered in Sacramento, had employees at 15 facilities walk out between 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m on April 18. The Sutter Health locations where the strike took place included Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Vallejo, Santa Rosa, and Novato.
The strike was called due to the fact that, since June 2021, although the registered nurses at Sutter Health have been in contract negotiations with management, there has been little to no movement on key issues.
Renee Waters, a neurotrauma intensive care unit nurse at Sutter Roseville, said, “A fair contract is needed to retain experienced nurses, have sufficient staffing and training, and ensure we have the resources we need to provide safe and effective care for our patients.”
Their requests include investing in more nursing staff, safe staffing that allows nurses to provide safe and therapeutic care, COVID-safe protections for hospitals to invest in personal protective equipment and comply with California’s PPE stockpile law, eligibility for worker’s compensation that covers infectious diseases to ensure nurses have resources to keep themselves and their patients safe, and workplace violence protections that mitigate and prevent violence within hospitals. This is according to a press release by the CNA.
The workers allege that Sutter Health did not provide or protect them in all of these areas, and failed them especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, they are also attempting to negotiate higher salaries.
In the statement, Waters spoke about Sutter’s treatment of the nurses during the pandemic: “Sutter Health is not investing in us, the nurses, or the community they should be serving. Instead, they are frequently using the word ‘commitment’ in their responses to us without actually agreeing to proposals that hold them accountable. Sutter failed us during the pandemic…We need Sutter to back up their statements that we are heroes and values, with agreements to our proposals at the bargaining table.”
In a statement to ABC News, Sutter Health says they were disappointed by the strike and called it “disruptive” and “costly.”
“By moving forward with today’s costly and disruptive strike, union leadership has made it clear they are willing to put politics above patients and the nurses they represent — despite the intervention of federal mediators and our willingness to bargain in good faith while under threat of a strike,” the health network said.
“We are hopeful CNA shares our desire to reach an agreement and enable our nurses to turn their focus back to the patients the union has asked them to walk away from,” Sutter continued.
Following the strike, Sutter Health retaliated in an action barring the nurses who walked out from returning to work for five days during which they would not be paid.
“When the union threatens a strike we must make plans that our patients, teams and communities can rely on,” said a Sutter Health spokesperson to ABC News. “Part of that planning is securing staff to replace nurses who have chosen to strike, and those replacement contracts provide the assurance of five days of guaranteed staffing amid the uncertainty of a widespread work stoppage.”
According to ABC News Terah Baker, a Registered Nurse in the Trauma/Neuro ICU at Sutter Roseville, nurses and healthcare workers were sent an email from the CEO Brian Alexander prior to the strike, warning them of the impending action.
“Alexander said that if we called off the strike, we could return to work within 24-48 hours” Baker reported.
The action affected nurses who walked out at 14 of the 15 hospitals. However, at the Sutter Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice in Santa Cruz, the nurses were permitted to return to work.
In response, the CNA called it a “completely unnecessary and vindictive anti-union move,” and implored Sutter Health to allow the nurses back to work. They cited the one-day strikes at other hospital systems and how they did not “lock out their nurses for exercising their labor voice and rights.”
While barring the nurses who striked from attending work and being paid for the next five days, Sutter Health claims to be working to hire and train additional workers to maintain safe working conditions.