As many as 23,000 registered nurses are expected to walk off their jobs Thursday at Kaiser Permanente, Children's Hospital Oakland and many Sutter Health medical centers in Northern and Central California.
The Kaiser strike - which will involve about 17,000 nurses represented by the California Nurses Association-National Nurses United - is in sympathy with 1,500 mental health and optometry employees at Kaiser facilities in Northern California represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers.
Mental health workers at Kaiser said they're striking over proposed cuts to their health and retirement benefits, and what they described as exceptionally long wait times for patients to receive individual psychiatric care. They are also expected to be joined by another 2,000 equipment engineers from another union.
Registered nurses at Children's Hospital Oakland and Sutter Health centers are also holding a one-day walkout Thursday, but the strike is over their ongoing contract disputes at those facilities. In total, 34 hospitals in Northern and Central California will be affected by Thursday's labor action.
Officials from the hospitals affected by the strikes said they will continue to provide care by hiring replacement workers and rescheduling elective procedures.
While the Kaiser strike will last just one day, officials at Sutter and Children's hospitals said they signed five-day contracts with companies that provide replacement nurses. That means the nurses at those hospitals will be unable to return to work until Tuesday morning. Kaiser nurses will be back on the job on Friday.
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"I think it's punitive," Martha Kuhl, a veteran nurse at Children's Hospital and an officer with the nurses' union, said of the five-day contracts. "I'm scheduled to work on Friday and I'm not on strike on Friday. I'll be outside the hospital for my 3 p.m. shift, and I hope they let me in."
The 700 nurses at Children's Hospital represented by the nurses' union last held a five-day strike in early May. Their main objection continues to be a management proposal they say will require them to pay more for health care.
Some of the Sutter centers affected by the strike include Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland and Berkeley, Mills-Peninsula centers in San Mateo and Burlingame, Sutter Solano Medical Center in Vallejo and Sutter Delta in Antioch. The nurses at the hospitals are upset about proposed changes to benefits, including sick pay, as well as patient-staffing issues.
The nurses at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco are not striking because the union said the parties are not in active negotiations.
Kaiser officials described negotiations with the optometry and mental health professionals as in the "preliminary stage" and said they were disappointed by the nurses' participation in the labor action.
"Simply put, Kaiser Permanente is not in contract negotiations with CNA - and our bargaining with NUHW does not affect CNA," said Gay Westfall, senior vice president of human resources for Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Health Plan.