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Nurses Begin 5-Day Strike at Several Alameda County Hospitals

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Two nurses wearing red wave and hold signs that say, "Nurses Essential for Patient Care."
Alameda Hospital nurses cheer as cars honk in support during a march at the hospital on Oct. 7, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Hundreds of nurses walked off their jobs Wednesday at three hospitals in Alameda County as part of a five-day strike to call attention to stalled contract negotiations and their concerns about workplace and patient safety.

“[Personal protective equipment] is probably the biggest thing that we want. And safe staffing levels. We definitely don't want to be laid off,” said Adrian Jackson, a respiratory care nurse at Highland Hospital in Oakland. “We just want to keep what we do have and make sure that we're safely staffed.”

Wages are at stake, too, said Pete Castelli, public sector director for the California Nurses Association (CNA), which represents some of the nurses on strike.

“We're at an impasse because management refuses to offer any substantive gains for nurses or even a market price so they can retain nurses and keep them working here,” Castelli said.

Alameda Health System employees and supporters march outside of Alameda Hospital on Oct. 7, 2020, during a planned five-day strike over COVID-19 safety concerns and stalled contract negotiations.
Alameda Health System employees and supporters march outside of Alameda Hospital on Oct. 7, 2020, during a planned five-day strike over COVID-19 safety concerns and stalled contract negotiations. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

About 150 nurses at San Leandro Hospital and 175 at Alameda Hospital are represented by the CNA, while about 900 nurses at Highland Hospital are represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021, according to union representatives.

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In addition to nurses, other SEIU members at Highland Hospital who work as technicians, clerks, housekeepers and social workers are joining the strike, bringing the total number of striking employees there to about 3,200, according to John Pearson, an SEIU chapter president.

The unions said they worked together to coordinate strikes at the same time.

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The organization that manages all three hospitals, Alameda Health System (AHS), said it has brought in hundreds of replacement workers but has had to adjust service levels by canceling elective procedures and rescheduling appointments.

“We apologize to our patients and community health partners for any inconvenience they may experience due to postponement or reduction of some services during the strike,” wrote Terry Lightfoot, director of public affairs and community engagement for AHS, in a statement.

“While we are disappointed that the unions called this strike at a time when there are already extraordinary strains on health care providers, we encourage them to return to the bargaining table, where we can resolve our differences and reach agreement on a fair, mutually beneficial contract.”

In a memo to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, the hospital system's CEO, Delvecchio Finley, shared details of the management's offers, which include a 2.5% raise in wages every year for the next three years and an additional 12 weeks of paid leave for anyone needing to care for a family member because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I implore the unions to please call off these strikes and let's get back to trying to work together,” Finley wrote.

Alameda Health System employees and supporters march outside of Alameda Hospital on Oct. 7, 2020. About 175 nurses at Alameda Hospital and 150 at San Leandro Hospital are represented by the California Nurses Association, while about 900 nurses at Highland Hospital are represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, according to union representatives.
Alameda Health System employees and supporters march outside of Alameda Hospital on Oct. 7, 2020. About 175 nurses at Alameda Hospital and 150 at San Leandro Hospital are represented by the California Nurses Association, while about 900 nurses at Highland Hospital are represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, according to union representatives. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

But union representatives said there are additional provisions they want to see, including guarantees of higher staffing levels, better access to PPE, more space for treating COVID-19 patients and better maintenance of hospital equipment.

“They have to respect the fact that we know what we need in order to take care of our patients,” said Karen Rothblatt, an operating room nurse at Alameda Hospital and a nurse's representative for the CNA.

Representatives for both the CNA and SEIU are calling for the county Board of Supervisors to intervene in contract negotiations.

“We want to get back to work. We want to get back to taking care of our patients,” Rothblatt said. “The last thing nurses want to do is be on strike.”

KQED's Shannon Lin contributed additional reporting to this story.

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