Nurses strike ends at Sutter Health

By Kevin Chojczak

SAN FRANCISCO--Members of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC) marked the end of a 10-day strike against the Sutter Health network with a rally at the California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) on March 30.

Over 100 nurses and supporters came out to show their solidarity for the 4,000 CNA members who struck at eight Bay Area facilities over patient care, health care for nurses, and the threatened shutdown of three facilities in underserved communities.

On the last day of the strike, Sutter management said it still refused to negotiate with the union. Nurses reported various threats of retaliation by hospital officials against RNs if they participated in the strike. On March 27, the CNA filed unfair labor charges with the National Labor Relations Board for Sutter's harassment of nurses, including threats to cut off health coverage.

Bonnie Castillo, an RN and director of CNA's Sutter division, said that despite Sutter's threats, most of the Sutter RNs did strike. "They are determined to get Sutter's attention to fix the serious problems in patient care that plague Sutter hospitals," Castillo said. "Until Sutter shows a willingness to solve these concerns, this dispute will continue."

Sydney Wing, a nurse at Marin General Hospital, said, "This was really a testing point for everybody. All hospitals pulled together, and I would say about 80 percent of nurses held the line. This just showed our determination to fight the Sutter juggernaut. We hope that Sutter will come back and bargain in good faith for the issues we have--retirement with health benefits and break relief that upholds the nurse-to-patient ratios that were passed."

Despite making the bold move of striking for 10 days--two CNA strikes in October and December were only two days long--pickets throughout the Bay Area were fairly small. So far, there is no plan for negotiations with Sutter, and it is unclear what next steps the CNA will take.

In the past week, community vigils were held at two Sutter hospitals threatened with closure, St. Luke's Hospital in San Francisco and San Leandro Hospital, which serve predominantly working-class, minority communities. As Jane Sandoval, a RN for 23 years, said, "What Sutter is doing is moving services to the most affluent communities across the city by calling them enhancements. What this is called is takeaways!"

Madelene Yee, an RN at CPMC, said, "The good thing that came out of this strike was that we no longer feel alone in our location. The last 10 days gave us the opportunity to communicate with other nurses in other Sutter hospitals. It was a solidarity builder for us...

"The fight was always about the patients, and we are going to stay firm with our principles."

Poly Manoli contributed to this article.