Nurses at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, or ABSMC, in Oakland and Berkeley began a strike on Monday to protest the alleged persistence of workplace violence and low retention and recruitment of nurses.
Ann Gaebler, a registered nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit, has been working at ABSMC for 41 years. She is both a nurse representative in the union and on the bargaining team.
After a one-day strike in April, the five-day strike follows the union’s philosophy of escalating conflict, according to Gaebler.
“We’ve made proposals and they keep coming back at us with the same thing saying ‘we don’t think this is necessary, we don’t want this’,” Gaebler said. “You can only talk for so long: After a certain point it’s time to show them that we really mean what we mean.”
Gaebler noted that many new hires stay for months and get trained but end up transferring to Kaiser, because of the difference in salary. Because of understaffing, Gaebler noted she could work all the time if she wanted, and receives texts notifying her that nurses are needed at work almost every four hours.
Eric Koch, the charge nurse on the night shift at ABSMC and part of the bargaining team, noted that many patients are violent and that they yell and throw objects. This can become worse when there aren’t an adequate number of nurses to help them, Koch added.
Koch and Gaebler commented on how difficult the hiring process seems to be.
“They have an algorithm that they follow that doesn’t necessarily reflect what the needs of the unit are,” Gaebler said. “It’s like they have made it so complicated that you can’t see the basics, which is that you can’t staff the unit.”
Koch also noted that some guarantees in nurse’s contracts are not being acknowledged by the hospital, like their “paid ed” days. These days are opportunities for nurses to take days to educate themselves and expand their knowledge, but have not been granted by the hospital because of understaffing of nurses, Koch added.
After the strike, nurses will go back to work at 7 a.m on Saturday.
Gaebler noted that the strike has received a lot of support and said there have been varying reports of care in the hospital, as the nurses brought in don’t have the same relationship with the patients and community. Gaebler said she hopes bargaining will resume and they can come up with an agreement to address the nurse’s conditions.
“I love what I do, I love being a nurse,” Gaebler said. “But it definitely lets me know that corporations have no place in healthcare – that this is being run in a way that doesn’t really have anything to do with taking good care of people.”