Striking nurses at new gigs


    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
    other replacements.

    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,"
    said Idelson.

    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
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