California nurses barred from strike, but Minnesota nurses ready for June 10 D-day

San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Peter Busch has issued a temporary restraining order to prevent thousands of University of California (UC) nurses from participating in a one-day strike slated for Thursday June 10 in California, reports the Los Angeles Times. The judge ruled that a strike was against the public interest and could potentially be illegal. The temporary order puts the strike at five UC hospitals on hold for at least two weeks, and Judge Busch has scheduled a June 18 follow-up hearing, reports KALW News.

The injunction comes too late to save UC a chunk of money. The university has spent $10 million to $15 million to fly in replacement nurses, says spokesman Steve Montiel. Those nurses had already begun arriving to prepare for work, so UC officials don't know how much money the judge's order will actually save them.

The California Nurses Association is considering its options, union spokesman Chuck Idelson tells the Los Angeles Times. The union complied with a similar no-strike order issued by a judge in 2005. However, "no decision of this court is going to fix the staffing problems that are endemic in the UC hospital system," he says. In addition, nurses at three private California hospitals still plan to strike and rally outside UC facilities. The judge's order doesn't stop the nurses from striking at Marina del Rey Hospital, Citrus Valley Medical Center and Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center San Pedro.

Roughly 12,000 Minnesota nurses in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Twin Cities region also are prepared to move forward with their one-day walkout, as well. The 14 hospitals involved in contract negotiations with the Minnesota Nurses Union have hired about 2,800 replacement nurses and also plan to tap nonunion staff, including additional physicians, nurse practitioners and management nurses, to keep operations running, reports the Star Tribune. Some of the hospitals have postponed elective procedures scheduled for June 10, but others plan business as usual. While the nurses union has authorized a 24-hour strike, the hospitals have indicated they might not seek the return of all striking nurses promptly on June 11.

Nurses in both Minnesota and California have contended that nurse-to-patient staffing ratios at hospitals pose a threat to patient safety. National Nurses United (NNU), which broke off from the American Nurses Association (ANA) in 2009, has been aggressive in making nurse-to-patient staffing ratios its centerpiece issue, reports the Star Tribune. The upstart NNU, which includes the would-be strikers in California and Minnesota, now has 155,000 members nationwide vs. 180,000 for the veteran ANA. In fact, almost 2,000 Texas nurses have joined the NNU in the last few weeks, reports the San Francisco Business Times.

But one threat to patient safety may come from a common practice that many nurses enjoy: working successive 12-hour shifts, reports Medical News Today. In a study of 80 registered nurses working three successive 12-hour shifts, researchers at the University of Maryland at Baltimore found that the nurses averaged only 5.5 hours of total sleep between shifts, leaving them more likely to suffer health problems and to make patient errors.

To learn more:
- read this Los Angeles Times article
- read this KALW News report
- take a look at these Star Tribune reports: article 1, article 2 or article 3
- read this Associated Press article in Bloomberg Businessweek
- review this San Francisco Business Times report
- read this Medical News Today article

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