Californians: Do not get sick between Thursday and Saturday, because the unions are on the move

I’m surprised that there’s so little news about an upcoming nurses’ strike in Northern and Central California.  This story should be a big deal, in large part because the nurses who are going on strike in thirty-four Northern and Central California hospitals actually have no complaint.  Instead, they’re putting thousands of patients at risk because their union wants to show its sympathy to another union (emphasis mine):

Thousands of registered nurses plan to walk off the job at 34 hospitals in northern and central California on Thursday in one of the largest such labor actions here in years.

Up to 23,000 nurses could be involved in strikes at Children’s Hospital Oakland and the large Sutter Health and Kaiser Permanente systems, union leaders said.


Kaiser nurses signed a contract earlier this year, but they plan a sympathy strike Thursday to support members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, who will walk off the job at Kaiser facilities in a separate contract dispute.

Here in Marin County, there are three hospitals:  Kaiser in San Rafael, Sutter in Novato, and Marin General, which broke with Sutter a year or two back.  For up to three days, starting Thursday morning, there will be only one fully functional hospital in Marin, a county with more than 250,000 residents (emphasis mine):

Workers at all of the North Bay Kaiser facilities will be striking, but consolidated picket lines will be held in Santa Rosa, San Rafael and Vallejo, NUHW spokesman Leighton Woodhouse said. The strike would include about 220 workers across the North Bay, at facilities in Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties.

The California Nurses Association, with some 17,000 registered nurses at Kaiser facilities, will join the union as part of a sympathy strike, according to NUHW, which will amount to the largest strike in Kaiser’s history. Workers will walk off the job for one-, two- and three-day durations from September 21 to 23.

What’s just as bad is the way in which the hospitals, which cannot take the risk of patients dying because of the strike, will have to cope with the nursing deficit.  Kaiser, for example, is flying in strike-breakers, at a cost of $9,000 or so per strike-breaker.  The deal with these fly-in nurses is that they insist upon receiving a five-day contract, even though this strike is projected to last only one to three days.  While it would be impossible for Kaiser to have a replacement for each of the approximately 17,000 nurses on strike, the money Kaiser will be forced to pay out for this sympathy strike is outrageous.

Things are even more complicated than simply finding replacement nurses at incredible expense.  Most of the hospitals involved now have very complicated computer systems that are custom designed for each hospital chain.  These computer systems control everything:  nurse’s notes, doctor’s notes, pharmacy, lab tests, treatments, billing — you name it, it’s all computerized.  What these means is that hospitals are no longer fungible.  In the old days, a chart was a chart, and that was true whether you were in a hospital in Schenectady or San Francisco.  Nowadays, though, nurses have to understand computer systems that are unique to a given hospital.  That nurse who’s been flown in from out-of-state doesn’t know Kaiser’s or Sutter’s computer system.  For those nurses, it’s like having to fly a 747 when you’ve only flown a Piper before.

And again, let me remind you that the nurses aren’t walking off the job to improve their own working situation.  This is all about union solidarity.  So, my advice to you, if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and the northern parts of Central California is to play it safe starting Thursday.  Even if your hospital isn’t one of the ones dealing with a strike, it might be feeling awfully overwhelmed.  If you were thinking of doing some DIY work with power tools, hold off a few days.  If you were planning on sending your kids to a park with lots of monkey bars, send them out to play on the lawn instead, or maybe just plunk them in front of the television.  For the latter part of this coming week, you can’t be too safe.

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  • Indigo Red

    Whoa, that’s a relief! I thought you were going to say the nurses were striking in sympathy with the supermarket workers who are also threatening to strike this week, but that would just be weird.

  • bkivey

    Well, I would say that the professional credibility of any striking nurse is shot. I hope that names will be taken and distributed. I would not care to have someone charged with my care who would put politics above professional obligation.

  • Michael Adams

    Well, I am a nurse, and this is pretty disturbing. I have resigned from a hospital whose administration had started to engage in some  practices that increased the danger to patients.  I gave two weeks notice, but, one does not burn bridges, so my letter did not mention my concerns. Rather, I quietly  let some friends among the supervisory staff know why I was resigning.   Nursing is supposed to be a profession, not “labor”.  A hospital may be a very busy place, but it is not a factory.
    Also, I am pretty good at what I do, taking a heavier* load than anyone else, and coming to the end of the shift with everyone alive who was alive at the start. They missed me when I was gone, and, within a month, they had stopped the worst of the unsafe stuff. Heh! They had some of those friends ‘phone me up to come back, but, sorry, I had moved on.
    * Everyone usually has the same number of patients, but some of us are given the higher acuity ones. Also, I can do a lot of skilled things, tubes and such, and people soon learned to come to me for help when they had something that they could not handle, since I was not the supervisor who might blame them for not knowing how to do something.

  • Caped Crusader

    America the Beautiful, where tree surgeons make far more per hour than brain surgeons. You are choosing the medical care you will get in the future. If you value your life, proceed with caution.
    It is time unions received their “comeuppance”.

  • Ymarsakar

    Little worker bees, slaving away and doing as they are told by the true rulers of the American economy.

  • David Foster

    Interesting point about the reduction in fungibility due to computer-based systems for medical records, test ordering, etc. I’d imagine that the same is true of certain medical electronics devices. An ICU monitoring system from Siemens probably does pretty much the same thing as one from GE, but I’d bet there are differences in how you instruct it, which could matter when time is of the essence.

  • jj

    LOve the way the replacement nurses – doubtless good little union members – are taking advantage of the opportunity to hold up the hospitals, too.
    I think I’d opt for the Draconian response, were I a hospital affected by the strike.  I’d be inclined to do nothing.  If people die, then that’s what happens.  But – I’d make damned sure that a full list of every striking nurse’s name and home address was published in every newspaper, and there was at least one poster with said names and addresses visible on every door and in every ground-floor window of the hospital, and copies of the list appeared in every mailbox in town.
    If the SEIU can send thugs out to AIG executives homes, it seems to me that affected members of the public who’ve just lost a relative because some nurse’s heart was beating in sympathy with a completely unrelated union situation have that same right.

  • Danny Lemieux

    JJ, no reason why an affected family couldn’t file a civil suit against the hospital, union and the specific nurse(s) that were supposed to be on duty when bad things happened, is there?

  • jj

    Given the court situation in California – no.  I have no interest in what some braying jackass in a ball gown thinks, and beyond that, see no reason for a bereaved relative to have spend so much as a nickel dicking around for years suing somebody.  I favor “justice,” not “bullshit,” in a situation like this.  My mother dies because you were out prancing around a picket line in sympathy with somebody’s labor problem that has no relationship whatever to where you work or what you do, I’m going to break off whatever piece of you I happen to catch hold of first.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Wait, wait, wait… you mean that justice is not to be found in courtrooms?

    Oh, wait…I agree with you.

  • Michael Adams

    Nurses’ contractual responsibility to a patient begins and end with the shift, so that case would go nowhere. A professional relationship is finite, unlike familial or friendly connections, or even slavery. It really has to be that way.  I realize that people get sued for things that they can not control, but most of those cases fail, even in CA. OTOH, I don’t know the relevant statutes in CA, but firing a striking worker might be possible.
    Finally, no, the the “traveling nurses” are usually NOT union members. Travel nurses, agency nurses, even the PRN pool, are generally quite entrepreneurial in our outlook. When I was a nursing student and worked in the offices of various agencies, I encountered many people new to the agency thing. The most important part of my job, which was not in my job description, consisted of talking nurses through the transition to freedom, from being “taken care of” by a hospital. Some could make the change.  Others could not, and went back to the hospital’s payroll, with “benefits” which always cost the hospital less than the extra wages the nurse received.  At this point in my life, the health insurance bought on the open market would actually cost more than the difference in wages plus the premium for the private insurance. However, my wife has group coverage with her job, so I keep on in the agency game. I need the higher pay rate.

  • Jose

    A point to consider is that most computer systems require individual user accounts, for accountability reasons.  The health care field can be very picky in this area.
    Aside from temporary nurses not being familiar with whatever programs the hospital uses, they also need individual usernames and passwords – probably for multiple programs.  Constructing user accounts, possibly with different configurations and permissions needed for a given position, is a big part of the IT department’s work.  Needless to say this is time consuming work, coordinated between different people. Depending of the number of new accounts needed and the number of IT staff working on it, it could easily take more than 3 days before the temps would be able to input any data.

  • Spartacus

    Necessity is the mother of invention.  Sounds like there’s an opportunity for some hospitals and hospital chains to band together, agree to a certain amount standardization of technology, organize a pool of potential strike-breakers, and ensure that they are pre-certified on the tech they would need to know in case of a strike.  Then, if and when a strike comes, those folks get to be at the front of the line for very lucrative work.  Still better for the hospitals if they don’t have to deal with a strike, but it might take some of the pain out of it.

  • Ymarsakar

    Mexicans and immigrants are doing the work Americans won’t do. So obviously, strike breakers will be Mexicans and immigrants, right?


  • Ymarsakar

    people understand how ironic it is that Democrats want more serf bound slave voters from Mexico and justify their ambitions with the term that illegal immigrants are just taking up the jobs that Americans won’t do, even as the Leftist Democrats themselves are the cause of unionization destroying jobs right?

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