Kaiser Workers Stage a 24-hour Walkout in California

A major strike took place in California yesterday, one of the largest in the history of Kaiser hospitals in the state. A total of about 22,000 people including about 4,000 mental and optical health care workers at Kaiser hospitals, plus thousands of registered Kaiser nurses in the California Nurses Union, staged a 24-hour walkout, according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The mental health and optical workers were protesting the effect of staffing shortages on their patients as well as proposed cuts to health and retiree benefits. The walkout was the second in two months, and the fourth since negotiations between Kaiser and the National Union of Health Care Workers began in 2010.

Leighton Woodhouse, spokesman for the National Union of Healthcare Workers, said the mental health and optical workers were happy to have the nurses’ support.

“The nurses have advocated for years around safe staffing and this is an issue of safe staffing,” said Woodhouse, speaking from the Kaiser medical center in Los Angeles. “It’s also about cutting union benefits and this is where there is trade union solidarity around the fact Kaiser is making billion in profits there is no cause” to propose cuts.

Kaiser officials said more than 66 percent of the nurses crossed the picket line and came to work on Tuesday and accused the nurses who honored the strike of violating a “no strike” clause in their contract, which runs through 2014.

“We are pleased that so many of our nurses made the decision to continue providing our patients with high-quality personalized health care and to honor their contract,” Kaiser officials said in a statement.

Representatives from the nurses’ union say earlier court rulings support the nurses’ right to strike in sympathy with other unions and contested Kaiser’s figures. The union said between 80 percent to 95 percent or more of nurses honored the strike, depending on the facility.

“The nurses understand that yes, we have a contract and we’re grateful that is the case, but we think all of our co-workers deserve the same rights and benefits we do,” said Deborah Burger, president of the California Nurses Association and a staff nurse at Kaiser Santa Rosa.

Kaiser prepared for the strike by rescheduling elective procedures, relying on nurse managers and bringing in replacement nurses.

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