Nurses at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, who are currently in negotiations over a new union contract, went on strike Thursday morning, their fourth walkout since labor talks began last fall.
The strike takes place going into what is usually the second-busiest holiday weekend for the hospital's trauma center.
Beginning at 5 a.m., nurses with the Santa Rosa-based Staff Nurses Association picketed in front of Memorial Hospital on Montgomery Drive, carrying familiar blue signs decrying unsafe staffing at the hospital. Striking nurses said hospital management has balked at increasing staffing of break relief nurses, patient transporters and night-time specialty float nurses.
"On many of my shifts, it takes hours for my patients to see an ER doctor," said one striking emergency department nurse, who asked that her name not be used because she feared being targeted by management. "I find myself constantly apologizing for the hospital."
She and other nurses said that hospital officials are cutting too many corners on staffing at a time when the number of uninsured and under-insured patients has rapidly grown from a generation ago. The SNA represents nearly 650 nurses at Memorial.
Hospital officials said both sides have come to some agreement on staffing issues and that the real sticking points are wages and benefits.
"The outstanding issues that the hospital has on the table are purely economics," said Debra Miller, vice president for human resources at St. Joseph Health in Sonoma County, which owns Memorial Hospital.
The hospital has proposed a 4.5 percent wage increase over three years but the union wants a 6.5 percent increase over the term of the contract, which has yet to be determined, according to union and hospital officials. The hospital also wants:
; part-time nurses to pay more money for their benefits.
; a reduction in the standby rate paid to on-call nurses from 50 percent to 30 percent.