Health care workers in Northern California strike over short staffing, COVID protocols, pay

The workers allege staffing shortages and a lack of PPE stockpiles.

April 18, 2022, 5:04 PM

More than 8,000 nurses and health care workers in Northern California are planning a one-day strike Monday over staffing and other COVID-19-related concerns.

The employees of Sutter Health, a health delivery system headquartered in Sacramento, are planning to strike at 15 facilities -- including locations in Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Vallejo -- between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. and from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

According to a press release from the California Nurses' Association, a labor union, the workers are protesting concerns related to staffing shortages as well as health and safety protections they say are putting both patients and staff in danger.

The CNA said the nurses voted to strike in March and alerted Sutter Health of the plans to picket 10 days in advance.

"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," Amy Erb, a critical care nurse who works for Sutter's California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, said in a statement.

The statement continued, "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."

People wait in a observation area after receiving a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a Sutter Health vaccination site in Sacramento, Calif., on Feb. 4, 2021.
David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE

Additionally, the workers alleged Sutter Health did not provide its workers with enough personal protective equipment at the beginning of the pandemic and has refused to invest in stockpiles, ignoring California's PPE stockpile law.

Staff also said the health network has not been conducting contact tracing after positive cases are reported among staff.

In addition to getting Sutter to address their concerns, the workers are attempting to negotiate higher salaries. Sutter Health told KCRA 3 in a statement it does offer competitive wages and pandemic protections.

"They resist having nurses directly involved in planning and implementation of policies that affect all of us during a pandemic," Renee Water, a neurotrauma intensive care unit nurse at Sutter, said in a statement. "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"

The union said nurses and other health care workers have been negotiating with Sutter for a new contract since June 2021 with little advancement.

PHOTO: Sutter Health nurses and health care workers participate in a one day strike outside of the California Pacific Medical Center Van Ness Campus, April 18, 2022, in San Francisco.
Sutter Health nurses and health care workers participate in a one day strike outside of the California Pacific Medical Center Van Ness Campus, April 18, 2022, in San Francisco. Over 8,000 registered nurses and health care workers with Sutter Health are participating in a one day strike at 15 facilities across Northern California to protest Sutter Health's refusal to acknowledge proposals regarding safe staffing, health and safety protections.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Sutter sent a statement to ABC News, saying it was disappointed by the strike and referring to it as "disruptive" and "costly."

"By moving forward with today's costly and disruptive strike, union leadership has made it clear they are willing to put politics above patients and the nurses they represent -- despite the intervention of federal mediators and our willingness to bargain in good faith while under threat of a strike," the health network said.

The statement continued, "Our attention is on providing safe, high-quality care to the patients and communities we're honored to serve. We are confident in our ability to manage this disruption. We are hopeful CNA shares our desire to reach an agreement and enable our nurses to turn their focus back to the patients the union has asked them to walk away from."

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