FONTANA - Registered nurses and other employees crowded street corners near Kaiser Permanente Medical Center on Tuesday, fighting against what union officials call unfair cuts in medical staffing.

The roughly 100 pickters marked the end of the "Days of Protest," a series of demonstrations by thousands of registered nurses, physician assistants and nurse practitioners at Kaiser facilities.

Bundled in raincoats and gloves, workers carried plastic-covered signs in the morning drizzle. They chanted, "Who let the unions out?" followed by a series of dog barks, a spin-off of a song by the Baha Men.

"We love Kaiser, we appreciate our jobs at Kaiser, but we're just really disappointed in it right now," said Maddie Chero, a patient support services representative at the hospital.

Between the Fontana and Ontario hospitals, as well as medical offices around San Bernardino County, 85 people received layoff notices in mid November, said Jennifer Resch-Silvestri, hospital spokeswoman.

Workers argue that cuts will jeopardize patient care. They've also protested that employees - some working for the organization for as many as 40 years - were among the people on the list, while other employees with less seniority were not cut.

"I think they need to go by the rules," said Carol Dyer, another patient support services representative for the hospital.

Resch-Silvestri said Kaiser disagrees that the contract requires consideration of seniority with regard to staff cuts.

Chero and Dyer are not among the employees who received layoff notices.

Kaiser responded to the union's protests in a written statement, saying that many of the employees slated to be cut will be given opportunities to stay with the organization because Kaiser anticipates patient growth during the next year.

"These actions do not in any way affect or jeopardize patient care and services to our members," Kaiser officials said. "In fact, this action is part of a series of cost-reduction initiatives to ensure we can continue to keep healthcare costs for our members as affordable as possible, while also meeting the many changing dynamics in today's health care market."

Kaiser officials also said that the employees will continue working at hospitals for as long as a year, receiving pay and benefits during that time.

But union officials say there are no guarantees that all 85 employees will be absorbed by Kaiser by the end of that year.

"In concept, it sounds good, but in practical application, it may not be the same," Chero said.


Reach Melissa via email or call her at 909-386-3878.
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