Striking nurses enjoyed a nearly nonstop cacophony of support today as motorists passing by Alta Bates hospital honked their sympathy.
At 7 a.m., nurses at 10 Sutter Health hospitals including Alta Bates and Summit Medical Center walked off the job, protesting cuts in benefits and what they describe as eroding patient services.
"It's a good day," said 30-year veteran nurse and Albany City Council member Robert Leider. State Sen. Loni Hancock and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner sent representatives.
In bright red T-shirts and touting signs that read “No cuts in patients services” and “Scabs are worse than bed sores,” the nurses handed out flyers listing the hourly earnings of Sutter Health executives (At the top: Sutter West Bay President Martin Brotman at $2,061).
Their last contract lapsed May 2011.
Sutter spokesmen claim that the nurses average $136,000 a year in salary and $84,000 in retirement benefits, and rank among the top 1 to 2 percent in the country in pay.
"I would be getting $200 a month if I retired today," Leider said. "Maybe in my best year I made $80,000, but it is expensive to live in the Bay Area. I pay my mortgage and my kid's tuition, and my paycheck's gone."
But a spokeswoman for the Sacramento-based nonprofit said the salary averages were calculated using the nurses' own 2010 W-2 forms.
The retirement figure represents the amount a 55-year-old nurse would receive if s/he retired in the year 2024 after 22 years on the job, Karen Garner said by telephone.
"I can tell you that the California Nurses Association is not being honest," she said. "The truth is we're investing billions of dollars in meeting the changing needs of the communities we serve."
Registered nurse Ann Gaeble said that during her 31-year tenure she has watched Alta Bates transform from a small community hospital to a link in a corporate chain, citing the planned closure of a dialysis unit and cardiac care emergency lab, and the loss of 36 hospital beds at Summit Hospital.
"It's always, 'Why did you have to work overtime?' or 'Why did you need to use this?'" she said. "We're not dealing with widgets here. We're talking about human lives, and we see people at a time when they are in crisis. We need to spend time with them and with the family, and it's difficult in a corporate structure to do that."
Representatives from the union and the hospital last met on April 11. Sutter said the union declined to show at a scheduled meeting April 12.
Although the strike was called for only one day, the hospital has contracted an agency to provide replacement workers until Sunday morning.
The strike encompassed Alta Bates Summit Medical Center hospitals in Berkeley and Oakland; Mills-Peninsula Health Services hospitals in Burlingame and San Mateo; Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley; San Leandro Hospital; Sutter Delta in Antioch; Sutter Solano in Vallejo; Novato Community Hospital and Sutter Lakeside in Lakeport.