H1N1 Strike in CA, NV a Bargaining Chip?

As many as 16,000 registered nurses are expected to walk out Oct. 30 at 39 facilities to protest how management has protected them against H1N1. But the backdrop is contract negotiations now in their seventh month.

As many as 16,000 registered nurses from 39 hospitals in California and Nevada will strike for a single day and picket Oct. 30. While the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC) says the protest concerns "poor readiness by many hospitals to confront the H1N1 swine flu pandemic," the real reason may be contract negotiations that continue between CNA and Catholic Healthcare West, which employs more than 10,000 CNA-represented RNs. Negotiations began last March, with the latest negotiating session of the two sides taking place Monday, said Jill Dryer, a spokeswoman for San Francisco-based CHW.

She said a CHW proposal offering more than 20 percent in compensation increases and step raises over a four-year period remains on the table for the union's consideration. Some RNs working for CHW are represented by other unions, but CNA is the largest one, Dryer said.

The union says the strike is about staffing, and they say their employers should formally adopt all CDC and Cal/OSHA guidelines and make them enforceable by CNA/NNOC contract. CNA/NNOC recently released a survey of 190 U.S. hospitals where RNs cited widespread problems with poor segregation of patients, not enough N95 masks, inadequate training for hospital staff, and punitive sick leave policies. To date, more than 3,000 people have been hospitalized in California because of H1N1 and more than 200 have died, including an RN infected at one of the hospitals where the nurses will strike, according to the union.

"We did receive official 10-day notice of the the Oct. 30 strike," Dryer said Wednesday. "We are making plans at this point to continue serve our patients. I fielded a lot of media calls, and it's because the H1N1 component got people's attention. They [the union] probably didn't want to say that we've offered more than a 20 percent increase, including step raises, over four years. Our position continues to be, we're bargaining in good faith."

The CNA/NNOC H1N1 position statement is available here.

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