Nurses strike for safer working conditions
By Sheri Williams
Nurses and healthcare workers at facilities across Northern California held a one-day strike in April to protest Sutter Health’s refusal to address their proposals about safe staffing and health and safety protection.
Sutter Health RNs and healthcare workers have been in negotiations since June 2021 for a new contract, with little to no movement on key issues, which include providing necessary personal protective equipment to ensure that both patients and staff are safe from infections, including COVID-19.
During the pandemic, masks and other protective gear have often been rationed or in short supply. At the height of the pandemic, nurses were being asked to re-use masks, or use masks without enough protection. Though masks are no longer in short supply throughout the country, many nurses say they are still fighting with bosses for access to proper gear and protocols. Nurses also want a voice in planning for the next pandemic, to ensure the same dangerous shortages don’t occur again and to fix the problems that remain a daily challenge.
“Every single one of you people deserve to come to work and feel happy and safe. You deserve to come to work and have access to PPEs and be safe,” said one union organizer at the Roseville site, as hundreds of striking nurses cheered. “We don’t deserve to come to work and have our units in lockdown because of infections because someone didn’t do their job.”
Along with the medical workers, allies, including the Sacramento Central Labor Council, supported the action.
“We stand with our sisters and brothers at Sutter who are fighting not just for their own right to safe working conditions, but also to make sure that the patients they care for don’t end up with COVID because there wasn’t enough PPE,” said SCLC executive director Fabrizio Sasso. “It is unconscionable that Sutter, which promises to care for patients, risks their health trying to save money on necessary gear. With Workers’ Memorial Day so close, it’s imperative we all stand with nurses to make sure our workplaces are healthy and safe.”
The one-day action follows nearly unanimous strike authorization votes in March. Nurses and healthcare workers gave advance notice to Sutter Health for the strike. More than 8,000 registered nurses and healthcare workers participated in the strike, including nearly 2,000 in the Sacramento region.
“The Sutter nurses voted for this strike,” said Renee Waters, a Trauma Neuro Intensive Care RN with 26 years of experience. “We are striking because Sutter is not transparent about the stockpile of PPE supplies and contact tracing. They resist having nurses directly involved in planning and implementation of policies that affect all of us during a pandemic. We must address these issues and more. A fair contract is needed to retain experienced nurses, have sufficient staffing and training, and ensure we have the resources we need to provide safe and effective care for our patients. Nurses are fighting back against Sutter putting profits before patients and healthcare workers.”
Sutter Health RNs and healthcare workers have been in negotiations since June 2021 for a new contract, with little to no movement on key issues.
“Nurses overwhelmingly voted to go out on strike because we see no other option left for us and our patients,” said Amy Erb, RN , who works in Critical Care at California Pacific Medical Center. “We have tried repeatedly to address the chronic and widespread problem of short staffing that causes delays in care and potentially puts patients at risk, but hospital administrators continue to ignore us. We have a moral and legal obligation to advocate for our patients. We advocate for them at the bedside, at the bargaining table, and if we have to, on the strike line.”
In retaliation for the strike, Sacramento-based Sutter Health locked out thousands of registered nurses for five days, refusing to allow them to work their regular shifts.
“Sutter Health is choosing to retaliate against its registered nurses for striking to protect their patients by refusing to allow these nurses to return to work for an additional four days,” union leaders said in a statement to media.
But union members and officials vowed to continue their fight, pointing out that patient safety is at stake.