Nurse Strike to Hit Alta Bates Next Week

Mark McLaughlin of the Daily Cal staff contributed to this report.





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More than 2,200 registered nurses from five Bay Area hospitals including Berkeley's Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, will strike on July 17, following the collapse of six weeks of negotiations late Saturday night.

Alta Bates may have to limit services to ensure quality care on the strike day, Alta Bates officials said.

"Our priorities are to be here 24 hours for our community," said Alta Bates spokesperson Jill Gruen.

The California Nurses Association, which represents the nurses, demands better retiree health benefits, safe staffing standards and salary increases to promote employee retention. Union representatives said they want nurse salaries increased to levels comparable to those in other hospitals in the region.

Nurses gained similar benefits during negotiations with UC and at Catholic Health Care West, union spokesperson Liz Jacobs said.

Alta Bates officials said, however, they offer nurses benefits comparable to and even better than other local institutions.

"Despite difficult financial straits, we've offered the largest benefit package in history," Gruen said. "The medical center has offered wages that are among the best in the Bay Area. They meet or exceed what has been offered in the Bay Area."

Negotiations broke down after a disagreement about retiree benefits, union members said. While contracts at other hospitals allow for retirement at age 55, Alta Bates offered a retirement package with only partial coverage at 60, they added.

"We wanted to get some bridge for people who want to retire at 55 if they have worked for a number years," said Pat Strickland, a registered nurse at Alta Bates for 26 years. "That's worst than their last offer and they will be taking away our full coverage for retirement at 65. We were getting farther apart rather than closer together."

The hospital declined to comment about the retirement offer.

The union also called for a change in the staffing ratios. The union demanded a one to six nurse to patient ratio plus a head nurse. Gruen added that current staffing will change by state law in 2003 from the current 1 to 8 ratio to a one to six nurse to patient ratio.

The union demanded a smaller ratio because restructuring in the medical sector toward managed care has increased the workload of nurses, union officials said.

"The median age is around 48," Jacobs said. "There is a concern about trying to recruit new nurses and make the working conditions satisfying."

Ninety percent of nurses at Alta Bates work part-time, Gruen said.

Alta Bates offered a 16 percent increase in salary over the next three years to bolster nurse recruitment and retention.

Union officials said they rejected the proposal because the increase would put Alta Bates 11 percent below pay for senior nurses and 7 percent below pay for new nurses compared to Catholic Health Care West.

"While it might be a good at front, the current proposal is still going to put the nurses below the community standard," Jacobs said.

Nurses at Alta Bates Medical Center in Oakland, Eden Medical center in Castro Valley, St. Luke's Hospital in San Francisco and Sutter Solano Medical Center in Vallejo are involved in negotiations.

The California Nurses Association called for a strike against UC in May. The union withdrew the strike notice after representatives drafted a three-year contract for university nurses.

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