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At center of medical hub, Roseville sees another nurses picket

Negotiations at standstill over staffing levels, healthcare takeaways
By: Andrew Westrope,
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The red shirts and picket signs of the California Nurses Association once again filled the sidewalks of a major Roseville intersection March 6, this time outside Sutter Roseville Medical Center at the corner of Sunrise Avenue and Roseville Parkway.

The occasion was an informational picket, not a strike, by which the hospital’s nurses voiced their primary concerns at the bargaining table – that Sutter Roseville hasn’t staffed enough nurses, and it’s proposing to cut many of their healthcare benefits.

Rocklin resident Andrea Seils, a registered nurse in the hospital’s labor and delivery unit, said more than 300 nurses and their families attended the event. Unlike CNA’s picketing rally outside Kaiser Roseville in November 2014, which was part of a statewide series of events to raise awareness about CNA’s allegations of understaffing against Kaiser, last week’s picket was specific to Roseville. She said CNA’s disagreements with the hospital are not necessarily endemic to all Sutter locations, though others are also in negotiations.

Seils said CNA has been negotiating with Sutter Roseville for nine months since the nurses’ contract expired in June 2014, and Sutter’s proposals have called for too few nurses on staff and more than 30 reductions in their existing healthcare coverage.

Asked for concrete numbers, she declined to elaborate beyond saying that Sutter Roseville is “at times” not compliant with state nurse-to-patient ratio laws, particularly in its ER and labor and delivery unit.

“Our emergency department is holding patients because there are no open beds, so it’s pushed the nurses in ER out of (legal nurse-to-patient) ratio … which therefore puts more work on our emergency department. In labor and delivery, they’re trying to restructure our nursing unit, and it’s putting mothers and babies at risk,” she said. “Our job as nurses is to advocate for patients, and we’re out here advocating for our patients because we are unsafe inside the hospital, at times, with our staffing. So we want the community to know … that at the table behind closed doors, we have been saying, ‘We need more staff.’”

According to the California Department of Health Services, hospitals must staff one nurse for every four patients in an emergency room and one nurse for every two patients in a labor and delivery unit.

In a news release issued March 4, Sutter Roseville CEO Patrick Brady said the hospital “meets or exceeds” those standards, and he rebuffed the idea that the nurses were picketing for patient safety.

“Sutter Roseville continues to believe an agreement can be reached, but that takes reasonable proposals on both sides,” Brady said. “Instead of reasonable proposals, CNA is asking for a 19 percent wage increase and doesn’t like the changes we are making to our health plan. Under our proposal, nurses and their families would continue to have access to great health benefits at zero dollar monthly premium for themselves and their families.”

Sutter’s statement added that on average, a full-time registered nurse working under Sutter’s contract earns $139,000 per year, has the option of a comprehensive health plan with a zero-dollar monthly premium for self and family, and receives up to 41 paid days off every year with a fully-funded, employer-paid pension.

Making its counterargument, a news release from CNA indicated that registered nurses held nine strikes at Sutter hospitals across Northern California from 2011 to 2013, resulting in Sutter agreeing to withdraw demands for close to 200 reductions in patient care, workplace protections and nursing standards.

Seils said CNA has made no ultimatum for a strike at Sutter Roseville, but the nurses voted 94 percent to authorize their union representatives to call one if and when needed.

“We’ve taken a strike vote, and the nurses are ready to strike any time that the bargaining team decides that it’s time,” she said. “We’ve tried to negotiate in good faith with them and are still willing to negotiate. It’s just that it seems there’s a disconnect, and we’re not being heard.”