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Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital nurses may strike Saturday

Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital is gearing up for what may be the second nurses strike in a month, reserving replacement nurses and establishing a contingency plan representatives say will keep hospital services flowing.

If carried out, the strike will run three days, from 5 a.m. Saturday until 5 a.m. Tuesday. As required by law, the Staff Nurses Association, which represents about 660 Memorial nurses, notified the hospital administration of its intent to strike 10 days prior to the scheduled walkout.

On Oct. 2, two days after their contract expired, nurses staged a three-day strike to protest what they said were numerous "take-aways," including proposed reductions in night shift pay and on-call pay. The two sides also disagree on wage increases.

The union says its nurses deserve raises, especially given that Memorial has posted a record $38 million operating margin for the fiscal year ending June 30.

But hospital officials has said that its operating margins -- the difference between revenue and costs -- are just enough to allow the hospital to reinvest in new technology and other infrastructure. Also, hospital officials argue that they plan for reduced government payments with the full implementation of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

In addition, Local 39 Operating Engineers, which represents 18 building and equipment workers at Santa Rosa Memorial and Petaluma Valley hospitals, has given notice of its intent to strike at both facilities during the same three-day period as the nurses strike.

"As we demonstrated throughout strikes at both of our hospitals earlier this year, we are committed to continuing to provide high quality, safe, compassionate care and service without interruption," Debra Miller, vice president of human resources for St. Joseph Health in Sonoma County, said in a statement.

Miller said the two strikes will not "distract from our focus on serving patients, their loved ones, and health care partners throughout the region who rely on us."

Representatives with the Staff Nurses Association and Local 39 could not be reached Thursday for comment.

St. Joseph said it has reserved replacement nurses through an agency. But current nurse strikes at Sutter Health hospitals in the Bay Area have created a "demand for nurses" and St. Joseph was forced to contract replacement nurses for five days.

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