SANTA ROSA -- Some 640 union nurses at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital said they would go on strike for a fourth time in less than a year, as the St. Joseph Health-owned hospital and the local union continue tense negotiations over unresolved labor issues.

The Staff Nurses' Association, an independent union based in Santa Rosa, issued a statement saying the strike, planned for Thursday, May 23 at 5 a.m. and ending May 25 at 5a.m., is in response to "onerous, sub-market proposals" from Memorial. The union has been in negotiations with the 278-bed hospital since last August.

Officials at the hospital said it would remain open during the strike with outside staffing brought in to cover for the striking nurses.

The health system said it's not immune to difficult economic realities facing hospitals, particularly challenges related to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act that include reduced reimbursement rates, heightened competition and additional regulations. As such, the hospital said it needed to balance wages and employee benefits with cost-saving measures.

“We are committed to providing our RNs and all our staff just wages and benefits,” Debra Miller,  vice president of human resources for St. Joseph Health in Sonoma County, said in a statement. “Yet we, like other U.S. employers, also must find ways to de-escalate significant increases in payroll and benefits expenses. With health reform’s impact on our reimbursement and local employers looking increasingly to lower their health insurance costs, we must find ways to save while continuing to fairly compensate our highly skilled RNs. We continue to hope that hard work at the bargaining table will yield mutually agreeable compromises that everyone can support.”

St. Joseph Health also said it will temporarily close its urgent care center in Windsor and will treat all local patients Thursday and Friday out of its Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park Urgent Cares. The Santa Rosa Urgent Care will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily; Rohnert Park will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

All three Urgent Cares will be open, as usual, starting Saturday morning, May 25, and striking nurses may be called back to staff those centers as needed.

The union listed several remaining issues centered on staffing levels, benefits, overtime, compensation and wages.

The union said the hospital is proposing that health insurance can be changed without negotiation and that nurses contributions to insurance would be doubled and possibly tripled. The hospital also proposed a two-tiered  paid time-off accrual, according to the union. Additionally, the union said Memorial is proposing that overtime not be paid to nurses who work more than 8, 10 and 12 continuous hours if those hours exceed their assigned workday.

Compensation is also an issue for the union, which said the hospital has proposed a night-shift differential of 5 percent, a reduction of on-call pay from 50 to 30 percent without a shift differential, and no shift differential for jury duty or leaves of absence. 

According to the union, the hospital proposed a 4.5 percent increase in pay over three years, while the union is seeking a 6.5 percent increase over a three-year contract.

Ms. Miller, of St. Joseph Health, said: “While we respect our employees’ rights to strike, these recurring strikes with little or no progress at the bargaining table are disappointing. We believe every means of reaching mutual agreement through negotiations should be exhausted, so that our nurses, hospital and community can see these issues resolved."

She added that the union's decision to strike again would not affect the hospital's ability to serve patients.

The Staff Nurses’ Association’s contract with Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital expired September 30, 2012. The next bargaining session between the union and hospital representative is scheduled for June 6, 2013.

The union engaged in strikes in October, November and again in early January 2013. Nurse at Memorial will be striking concurrently with nurses a three Sutter Health-operated hospitals and two Hospital Corporation of America hospitals in the South Bay.