Nurses at the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, or ABSMC, have called a 10-day strike beginning Dec. 24, according to a press release from California Nurses Association/National Nurses United.
The press release read that nurses are protesting the ABSMC administration’s alleged refusal to address concerns about working conditions, continuing education and workers’ ability to use benefits. According to an email from a Sutter Health spokesperson, this will be the third strike by nurses at ABSMC, which is affiliated with Sutter, this year.
“A strike is a last resort for us; it is when the employer stops negotiating with us,” said Michael Hill, an ICU nurse at ABSMC and a member of the nurses’ bargaining team. “So while it is disruptive, it is a necessary thing for us to do.”
Nurses at ABSMC struck in October over issues with workplace violence and staffing, according to Hill. Hill said the upcoming strike is more focused on working conditions and the impact of ABSMC’s high turnover rate on nurses’ quality of care.
The Sutter Health spokesperson said in an email that ABSMC nurses are “demanding an unsustainable wage increase of 40%,” adding that Sutter has offered a 22.4% pay increase over four years, an increase comparable to that of other hospitals. According to Hill, ABSMC nurses are asking for wage increases to make them competitive with surrounding medical facilities like Kaiser Permanente and Stanford Health Care.
“The turnover itself speaks very clearly and loudly that this hospital does not have a competitiveness with the other facilities in the surrounding areas,” Hill said. “When you don’t have a wage that is market wage with those other facilities, those nurses are going to leave.”
ABSMC has a turnover rate of around 50 to 70 percent each year, Hill added; the medical center loses about 900 to 1,200 nurses per year out of a staff of 1,800. This high turnover leaves ABSMC understaffed and its current staff unable to take educational leave or improve the quality of care, according to Hill.
Hill noted that nurses are having to leave bedside care to perform tasks such as pharmacy runs and patient transportation, which are commonly done by ancillary staff. Hill described a nurse at ABSMC as the “all-inclusive employee” who works 12 to 16 hours without meal breaks because of the understaffing.
A Sutter Health spokesperson alleged that the nurses’ union is “using patients as bargaining chips.” According to Hill, however, ABSMC is obligated to find additional staff during a strike and nurses will “step in” to provide care if necessary; no patient will be left untreated.
“Our patients as nurses are always our number one priority,” Hill said. “It’s not bad for us to step away from the bedside to advocate for ourselves and advocate for our patients because we want to have the best care that we can provide, and sometimes we have to strike to do that.”