Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital nurses on Monday voted to strike today, marking the first impasse in 26 years between the union and the company that runs Sonoma County's only trauma center.
Only four members of the Santa Rosa-based Staff Nurses Association voted against the walkout, which was scheduled to begin at 5 a.m. today and to end at 5 a.m. Thursday.
"There is a huge disconnect between what the hospital insists that it needs and what they're willing to provide in the bedside," said union President Sue Gadbois.
Officials with St. Joseph Sonoma County, which runs Memorial Hospital, has hired hundreds of replacement nurses to keep the hospital open.
Urgent care centers in Windsor and Rohnert Park will close during the two-day walkout. But the urgent care center at Sebastopol Road and Corporate Center Parkway in Santa Rosa will remain open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Patients should expect scheduled appointments and procedures to take place as planned, said Debra Miller, vice president of human resources for St. Joseph Health Sonoma County.
"We will have a fully capable and functioning emergency room for trauma services, regular emergencies and a full surgery schedule," Miller said. "We don't anticipate any interruptions in our care as a result of the strike."
Cuts to overtime, night and oncall pay, coupled with reduced health benefits and greater employee contributions, were some of the factors that led to the vote, Gadbois said.
St. Joseph's rejected the nurses' request for a 10 percent pay increase over two years and instead offered 2 percent, she said.
The Staff Nurses Association has about 660 members; about 580 participated in the vote.
"Nurses are very upset about what they're looking at," Gadbois said. "We've never had a vote that large before. It was just huge."
But St. Joseph officials said the association's demands for pay and benefit increases were unrealistic given the economy.
"We do not feel that requests for double-digit increases in wages and increases in benefits are in line with current economic trends," Miller said.
The average hourly rate for a registered nurse on the day shift is $67 an hour and for the night shift is $75 an hour, Miller said.
"We feel that those wages are fair and just," she said.
The replacement nurses have been hired for four days, until 7 a.m. Saturday, so union nurses aren't expected to be allowed to return to work until then even though their strike ends Thursday morning.
Miller said any union nurses who cross the picket lines before Thursday likely will be put to work.
Nurses have said the hospital reported a $38 million operating profit margin for the fiscal year that ended June 30.
But Miller said that money is needed to bolster the hospital against further cuts to Medicare funding and to pay for expensive updates in technology.
"More than one-third of the hospitals in the state of California are operating in the red, and we are trying very hard not to be one of those hospitals," Miller said.
The union filed five strike notices during six previous rounds of contract negotiations but no walkouts occurred and new contracts were struck.
The last strike at the hospital was in 1986.
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jjpressdem.