80% from 2 East Bay hospitals
working as strike goes on
A bitter 6-month-old strike by nurses at two East Bay
hospitals is already the longest of its kind ever in
California, and it shows no sign of ending.
But you won't see groups of angry strikers outside
Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo and Pinole or a
shortage of nurses inside.
Day-to-day activity appears just as it did before the
strike began Nov. 4: Accident victims are rushed into
the 22-bed emergency room at the San Pablo
hospital, and nurses rush quickly from station to
The key difference is that replacement nurses,
recruited from outside the state, are attending to
patients. And 80 percent of the 450 striking nurses
are working at other Bay Area hospitals.
"Most of us have been doing this about three to five
years," said emergency room nurse William Adams
of Tennessee, who began working at Doctors in
February. Tenet Healthcare, which owns the
hospitals, and U.S. Nursing, a provider of relief staff,
take care of living arrangements for Adams and the
Picketing outside Doctors Medical Center has been
sporadic, and representatives from the nurses union
and management have not met in weeks.
The strike has widened the divide between Tenet, the
nation's second- largest hospital chain, and the
50,000-member California Nurses Association, one of
the state's largest nursing unions.
Since their contract expired Aug. 31, nurses have
demanded that Tenet establish a pension plan with
guaranteed monthly payments and health care for
retirees -- benefits that all other Bay Area hospital
chains provide, union officials say.
Tenet has opposed pensions, offering instead to
boost employee pay and increase the amount it
matches worker contributions to a 401(k) retirement
plan from 3 to 5 percent. The company implemented
this "best final offer" on April 15.
In the meantime, Tenet has been staffing the Contra
Costa hospitals with as many as 165 temporary
nurses and is planning to hire permanent nurses to
replace those who refuse to come back to work,
Doctors spokesman Michel Burleson said.
"We're not going to talk to them about retiree benefits
or pensions," said Burleson.
Tenet spokesman David Langness put it even more
bluntly when he described pensions as a thing of the
Earlier this month, Tenet forged an alliance with the
Service Employees International Union to increase
wages as much as 29 percent over the next four
years in return for a no-strike guarantee. The
agreement does not include pension benefits.
The California Nurses Association has gone to court
to block the agreement, which spokesman Chuck
Idelson called "deplorable."
"What you have there is Tenet attempting to
hand-pick a union it feels will be more compliant,"
CNA has contracts at three Tenet hospitals, in
Redding, San Luis Obispo and Doctors. An
organizing attempt is also under way at San Ramon
Hospital. Nurses in Santa Barbara staged a protest
at Tenet's corporate headquarters in support of the
striking Bay Area nurses.
Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of CNA,
compared the Doctors strike to a line in the sand.
"They're leading the fight for the future of other
nurses," said DeMoro. "This is one of the most
heated, protracted battles we've ever seen in the Bay
One of the dispute's casualties is Rida Villanueva,
who left Doctors, where she'd worked most of her
10-year nursing career, most recently in the
hospital's cardiac care unit, for a similar job at Kaiser
Hospital in Vallejo.
Villanueva said it was strange going to a new hospital
and getting used to a new way of doing things. Now
she isn't sure she would go back to Doctors if the
strike were to end.
"In six more months, I'll be able to have a 401(k) that
Tenet deemed to be such a great thing," said
Villanueva, who was a cardiac care nurse at Doctors.
"I'll have it all."
At Doctors, several replacement nurses said the
biggest challenge is finding supplies and paperwork
when they first get to a hospital. Dealing with new
patients, they said, is far easier.
"Patient care is basically the same wherever you
are," said emergency room nurse Jennifer Butler of
North Carolina, who has been at Doctors since early