Hundreds of nurses start three-day strike

Up to 800 nurses at Children's Hospital Oakland started a three-day strike today to protest management's attempts to slash healthcare benefits, according to the California Nurses Association. The nurses have been working at the 190-bed not-for-profit pediatric medical center without a contract since July 13.

Since May, the hospital administration and union have been locked in a dispute over wages and healthcare benefits.

The hospital is proposing a wage freeze in 2010 with pay hikes in the following years, hospital CNO Nancy Shibata said. Besides 100-percent employer-paid HMO and PPO plans for nurses and their families, the hospital is offering a third premium PPO option that requires a pre-tax employee contribution ranging from $111 to $311 a month, depending on whether the coverage is for an individual or family.

"Cutting health benefits for nurses, other hospital workers, and our families is an unfair and unnecessary way for the hospital to make up for years of bad management," said Martha Kuhl, CNA treasurer and a hematology-oncology RN at Children's.

In a statement, Shibata added, "This is about the CNA not being able to acknowledge and accept changes that are occurring throughout the country related to wages and healthcare."

The last union contract, negotiated in better economic times, gave raises of 6 percent in 2007 and 5 percent in 2008 and 2009. But earlier this year, the hospital announced that it had lost more than $69 million over the past four years. In 2009 alone, it lost $26 million. A plan calls for the hospital to cut losses for 2010 to $15 million, break even in 2011 and be back in the black by 2012. The average nurse makes $136,000 a year, according to the hospital press release.

According to the California Nurses Association, the hospital spent $8.9 million on compensation in 2008 for its top 26 administrators, including social club memberships and $560,000 in severance pay for two short-term executives.

The hospital will stay open and operate normally during the strike, according to a hospital press release dated Oct. 5. According to NBC, the hospital will bring in 125 traveling nurses and put managers on the front lines to help fill the gaps.

To learn more:
- read the press release from Children's Hospital Oakland
- read the press release from the California Nurses Association
- see the NBC Bay Area article
- here's the San Jose Mercury News article
- read the Bay Citizen blog

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