Striking nurses at new gigs

Nurses Activism


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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