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Nurses at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital plan strike

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Unions representing more than 1,000 nurses at two of Santa Rosa’s largest hospitals are planning strikes next week to protest what they say are staff shortages and significant cuts to their benefits.

The planned strikes include nurses at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and at the new Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital.

At Memorial Hospital, nurses represented by the Staff Nurses Association have called a two-day strike beginning Monday morning. The union represents 650 nurses at Memorial Hospital, and striking nurses will not be allowed to return to work until May 2, due to a 5-day minimum contract requirement for replacement nurses.

SNA President Sue Gadbois said the strike follows about three years of on-and-off negotiations since the expiration of the last labor contract. Next week’s strike would be the fifth time Memorial nurses walked off the job during that time.

“The hospital is basically giving us a take-it-or-leave-it proposal,” Gadbois said.

Memorial Hospital officials said the hospital would stay open with replacement nurses during the strike.

“It is important for our patients and their families to know that if a strike occurs, our doors will remain open and the high quality of care they expect and deserve will not be compromised,” Heather Resseger, Memorial’s director of inpatient nursing services, said in a statement.

Memorial hospital nurses have been without a contract since Sept. 30, 2012, and have been negotiating with hospital administration since then. The Staff Nurses Association says it is protesting a number of “takeways” at the bargaining table and other cuts that put Memorial behind other major local hospitals for pay and benefits.

They include the replacement of sick leave with a short-term disability plan that would reduce that benefit to 65 percent of normal income; the elimination of the retirement medical stipend; reduction of the 401a retirement contribution for senior nurses; and reduction in vacation time.

“The nurses voted for a strike based on the fact that the hospital is not negotiating in good faith,” Gadbois said.

The proposed cuts come at a time when the hospital’s revenue for the first six months of the 2014-2015 fiscal year is $40 million above its costs, according to the union.

Robert Eisen, regional vice president of human resources for St. Joseph Health, which runs and operates Memorial Hospital, said it is the union that has failed to participate “meaningfully in negotiations.”

Memorial said it is offering a 7 percent wage increase over two years. This includes a 2 percent retroactive wage increase to last October; a 3 percent wage increase effective this October; and a 2 percent wage increase effective October 2016.

Eisen said the proposed changes to nurses’ benefits packages “are necessary and reflective of the changing realities in health care.” He said the overall benefits package remains competitive.

Meanwhile, nurses at the new Sutter hospital are scheduled to walk off the job on April 30. About 420 registered nurses at the site are represented by the California Nurses Association.

The Sutter strike is part of a larger campaign involving 6,400 registered nurses at eight hospitals in California and at a hospital in Chicago, the union said. Walkouts are planned at five Sutter hospitals in Northern California, including facilities in Roseville, Burlingame, Auburn, Tracy and Santa Rosa.

“We need adequate health care for ourselves and for our families along with staffing conditions that are safe,” Debra Bucculatto, an emergency department nurse at Sutter in Santa Rosa, said in a statement.

Local Sutter nurses claim that Sutter has proposed changes to nurses’ health coverage that would shift costs so that nurses in a specific plan would pay considerably more than they do now.

Nurses also claim that nursing shortages have led to longer wait times for patients.

Sutter said Monday it was disappointed that local nurses had decided to take part in the larger campaign taking in the other Northern California Sutter facilities. “At our local Santa Rosa bargaining table, we’re close to an agreement, so I’m unsure how many of our Sonoma County nurses will actually support a walkout,” said Sutter spokesman Shaun Ralston.

Ralston said that Sutter would also use replacement nurses during the strike.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

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