SAN FRANCISCO - Union officials and representatives of a group of Sutter Health hospitals remain at odds over a number of issues, even how many nurses went on strike during a one-day strike Wednesday.
A majority of the 4,500 nurses who work at 10 Sutter Health hospitals in the San Francisco Bay area and Petaluma Valley Hospital walked off the job to protest stalled contract talks, California Nurses Association spokesman Chuck Idelson said Wednesday.
But Sutter spokeswoman Karen Garner said a "large number" of nurses crossed picket lines and reported to work. Neither side was able to provide the exact number of nurses who took part in the strike, though Sutter claimed that at one of its facilities, Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch, 87 percent of the nurses showed up for work.
The walkout, the fourth strike organized by the union since September, comes as union officials and Sutter management continue to clash over sick leave, retirement benefits, health care payments, patient care conditions and other issues.
"We don't believe that Sutter needs to be demanding these onerous and unwarranted cuts from nurses because they are an extremely profitable operation that operates as what I call J.P. Morgan West," Idelson said.
"They're making decisions on what provides the best return for their shareholders, not for patient care," he said.
But Sutter blamed union leaders for demanding benefits that would increase
"Union leaders want more," Garner said. "Instead of collaborating with us, union leaders have rejected virtually every modest contract proposal by our hospitals to make our quality services more efficient and affordable to patients."
Replacement nurses, hired to take the place of the striking nurses, will remain on job through Sunday, while the nurses who went on strike won't be allowed to return to work until Monday, Garner said.
Idelson said late Wednesday that union officials were expecting the striking nurses to be "locked out" after the day strike, rising concerns about the quality of patient care provided by the replacements.
"There have been problems that occurred in the past," Idelson said in referring to replacement nurses hired during previous strikes. "They don't seem to look very closely at the qualifications of the people they bring in," he said.
But Sutter spokeswoman Karen Garner described the replacement nurses as "qualified" and said they underwent two days of training at the hospitals before Wednesday's strike.
A contract with the company that provides the nurses requires that Sutter keep the replacements on the job for five days, Garner said.
"When they call a strike against our hospitals we bring in qualified nurses," she said.
"Our commitment is not only to our nurses, but also to our patients."