Nurses to strike at North Bay hospitals

PETALUMA -- updated 1:10 p.m. -- Petaluma Valley Hospital, operated by St. Joseph Health, received a one-day strike notice from the California Nurses Association for June 13, part of a wider strike to be held that day primarily at Sutter Health--affiliated hospitals throughout the North Bay and state.

On Tuesday, the union said registered nurses at two other St. Joseph Health hospitals would picket in support of the striking nurses in Petaluma: St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka and St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley.  The union represents 140 registered nurses at Petaluma Valley, 375 in Eureka and 500 in Apple Valley. 

"Nurses at Petaluma Valley Hospital have had enough,” said Kitty Brown, a Petaluma R.N., in a statement. “The hospital has cut our resources to the bone, and we will be on the streets on June 13 to advocate for our patients and our community."

In Petaluma, the nurses union said "a major issue" is an "unwarranted" 20 percent cut in standby pay for registered nurses required to be available to work. The association claimed that the amount offered is "significantly below community standards" and will lead a number of experienced nurses to leave.

"The hospital demands a substantial portion of nurses be on call to come in to work rather than providing regular scheduled staffing, which has led to chronic understaffing at the facility," the union statement said. "Being on call has always been voluntary, but now RNs are being forced into 48-hour and 72-hour call shifts, which will seriously endanger patient care."

The result is far too many nurses being “on call” to work for up to 72 hours, according to the union, which said the practice has led to staffing shortages as well as fatigued nurses.

At Petaluma Valley Hospital, months of negations and work with a federal mediator have not advanced talks, according to St. Joseph Health, which also owns Santa Rosa Memorial and Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa.

The hospital said that as a means of addressing plans to control costs, administrators at Petaluma Valley have been negotiating with the union on a new "call-pay agreement." Leaders at the hospital are proposing to provide a nurse assigned to standby work with 30 percent of nurse pay -- the on-call rate averages $21 per hour, excluding shift differential -- versus the current 50 percent and 75 percent on holidays.

The adjustment in pay affects about 25 percent of the hospital’s nurses and the hospital also has offered each of its nurses $1,750 in bonuses if the proposed agreement is ratified, according to St. Joseph Health. The hospital has been operating at a loss for years, according to the health care organization.

On Monday, the nurses association announced it would carry out numerous one-day strikes at Sutter Health--operated hospitals across Northern California. The strike  includes 45,000 nurses and hundreds of respiratory, X-ray and other technicians.

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