Contra Costa Times 10/06/2011
Nurses who waged a one-day strike against Bay Area hospitals last month have filed a complaint accusing Sutter Health of violating federal labor laws by locking them out for several days after the strike ended.
Controversy surrounding the lockout heightened when a patient at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland died after a replacement nurse reportedly made a medical error.
Sutter has argued that the nurses should not have walked out and has said it needed to sign five- to eight-day contracts with firms that brought in hundreds of replacement nurses from around the country.
But the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United challenged that statement in a complaint filed this week with the National Labor Relations Board.
The union noted that Kaiser Permanente brought in enough replacement workers for its nurses who held a one-day sympathy strike, and Kaiser did not lock out its nurses after the strike ended.
CNA represents 17,000 nurses at the affected Kaiser hospitals, many more than it does at Sutter, said CNA spokesman Charles Idelson.
“Sutter’s lockout was not only unwarranted, unnecessary and unconscionable, it was also unlawful,” CNA Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro said in a news release.
Sutter spokeswoman Stacey Wells said she could not comment on how Kaiser handled the strike, but she said Sutter needed to bring in enough replacements to ensure patient safety. She noted that the strike involved more than 23,000 registered nurses at Sutter and Kaiser hospitals and Children’s Hospital Oakland.
“We find it ironic that a union that has called more than 100 strikes against California hospitals in the last three years is challenging the steps our hospitals must take to preserve continuity of quality care for our patients during these times,” said Sutter spokesman Bill Gleeson.
Kaiser declined to comment.
The union complaint maintains that Sutter interfered with employees’ right to strike by locking out the nurses and punishing them for taking part in the labor action.
The union also argues that Sutter required its nurses to report to work on the day of the strike even if they were not scheduled “for the sole purpose of including them in the retaliatory lockout.”
If the labor board upholds the complaint, the union suggests that it seek a court-ordered injunction to bar future lockouts, and award back pay and lost benefits to the locked out nurses.
The dispute at Sutter hospitals involves what the union says are 200 proposed cutbacks in employee benefits and patient services. Sutter says it is attempting to reduce costs during difficult economic times.
Contact Sandy Kleffman at 925-943-8249.