Chanting “Berkeley, Berkeley, look around/Sutter nurses don’t back down,” Alta Bates nurses circled the courtyard outside "old" City Hall last night to protest proposed cuts in services at Sutter Health hospitals -- and what they describe as the city’s interference with their right to strike.
The demonstrators assembled as city council members arrived for their Tuesday meeting.
Sutter Health and the California Nurses Association remain at odds nearly a year after contract talks ran aground. In June, the nurses staged their fourth walkout. Another day-long strike is planned for July 3.
Nurses say that while reaping $4 billion in profit since 2005, Sutter Health has while cutting services to seniors, children, pregnant women and the mentally ill.
The not-for-profit medical corporation owns more than 20 hospitals in Northern California, including Alta Bates Summit Medical Center on Ashby Avenue.
Sutter is trying to “eradicate” a 60-year-old contract between the nurses and the hospitals, Alta Bates nurse Ann Gaeble said. She said the company refuses to compromise but has demanded sweeping concessions – eliminating sick leave, slashing benefits and salaries by 30 percent, and forcing nurses to work in areas in which they lack expertise.
Nurses also say Berkeley police in May refused to allow them to use bullhorns during strikes, although they had obtained a permit to do so. , officials barred the nurses from holding any loud demonstrations -- something they haven't faced in other cities in which they have staged walkouts.
Gaebler accused Eric Brenman, the secretary of Berkeley’s Health Services Department, of weakening the impact of the strikes.
Brenman said today that the city’s only beef was the effect of loudspeakers on the neo-natal intensive care unit, where amplified sound spikes.
“We gave them the alternative of moving about 15 feet away and directing sound away from the hospital,” which the nurses rejected, he said.
“The balance we are trying to strike here is really very simple,” he said. “We have had innumerable complaints from patients, the families of patients, and residents. We support the CNA’s right to a robust demonstration, but their proposal asked to amplify for 10 or 12 hours, and we do not give 10- to 12-hour sound permits to anyone.”
Counsel for the union agreed to the conditions imposed by the city beforehand, he said.
Sound has not been a factor in other cities, since patients do not directly bear the impact, he said.
A Sutter spokeswoman said the nurses enjoy excellent pay, and that the chain must carefully marshal its resources to maintain quality services.