Unions strike, people die

A few days ago, I warned people not to get sick starting on Thursday in Northern and Central California, because the California Nurses’ Association was staging a sympathy strike.  Sadly, one patient didn’t or couldn’t take my advice:

A female patient at an Oakland hospital died early Saturday due to what the hospital described as a “medical error” made while she was under the care of a replacement nurse hired during a labor dispute.

The nurse allegedly gave the woman a fatal dose of medication, said Cynthia Perkins, a spokeswoman for the Oakland Police Department. The nurse, who was not identified, was taken in for questioning by officers.

The unions are outraged, of course, that anyone is suggesting a connection between the patient’s death and the strike. What underlies the unions’ outrage is that the strike was only one for one day (Thursday) but the hospital had locked the nurses out through Tuesday. The union claims that this lockout was a punitive move aimed to stop future strikes:

“An incident like this is chilling and strikes right to our nurses’ concern about their ability to advocate for their patients,” said Rose Ann Demoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association-National Nurses United, which represents about 2,000 nurses at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center. “It was irresponsible to lock out those nurses.”

In fact, the lockout was the only way the hospitals could stop the financial hemorrhage from the strike. As I already explained in my earlier post, the only way that the hospitals could get staff for the single strike day was to fly in out-of-state people who refused to work for anything less than a five-day contract. The cost per strike breaker: $9,000. Thus, one economic cudgel behind the one day strike was to force the hospitals to pay outrageous fees for one day of service. The hospitals fought back the only possible way: they locked their own nurses out, so they wouldn’t have to pay their salaries, and instead paid the strike breakers’ salaries:

Sutter Health, the company that operates the medical center in Oakland, hired replacement nurses on five-day contracts and hospital officials said the nurses who went out on the one-day strike Thursday would be locked out until the temporary contracts expire Tuesday.

“Once a strike is called, it would be financially irresponsible for hospitals to pay double to compensate both permanent staff and replacement workers,” Sutter Health said in a statement last week.

So we’ve got the nurses’ union calling a one day strike, not on its own behalf, but out of union solidarity.  The union knows going in that

(a) hospitals cannot manage without any nursing staff;

(b) that substitute staff will only work for a five-day minimum and only for a $9,000 fee;

(c) that hospitals cannot possibly carry the economic weight of paying both striking nurses and substitute nurses for both the strike day and the four days after the strike day;

(d) that, while the hospitals can lock out and withhold pay from their own nurses, they cannot do so for the strike breakers; so that

(e) the only possible economic solution for the hospital is to keep the strike breakers and lock out the hospital’s own nurses.

The California Nurses Association engaged in economic blackmail and, predictably, someone died.

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  • Oldflyer

    A sad situation.  My older daughter is an RN in a U of Cal hospital in Southern California.  She loves her work and is totally patient oriented, to the point that she has had her tail in a crack for challenging Drs who she didn’t think were doing their jobs.  She is also an obligatory member of the CNA, but I cannot imagine what she would do if they struck her hospital.
    I am sure this was a tough situation for a lot of Nurses.  I know that in the two Labor & Delivery services on which my daughter has worked,  they are a very close knit team.  So, many of the nurses facing a  strike situation are torn between loyalty to their co-workers and their moral obligation to their patients.  There is no good resolution to that dilemma.
    Unionism has, for the most part,  outlived itself and become a disruptive, if not a downright destructive, force.

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    Exactly right, Oldflyer.

  • http://furtheradventuresofindigored.blogspot.com/ Indigo Red

    I feel bad for the replacement nurse.

  • http://thoughtyoudneverask.blogspot.com/ zabrina

    You have characterized this situation rightly for what it is. Keep beating the drum. People need to wake up and realize what’s going on behind the headlines.

  • Oldflyer

    Indigo, I suspect that is also part of the lock-out strategy.  Replacement nurses will not have to mingle with nurses who cross the line.  Whether intended, or not, it also shields nurses from having to choose whether or not to cross.
    On the issue of whether to honor a picket line or not, I recall as a kid, listening to my sainted grandfather and his even more sainted brother-in-law (are there grades of saints?)  They were both steam locomotive railroad engineers for different companies.   A strike was threatened against one company and they were fretting about what the affected individual would do in the event.  He wanted no part of a strike. but, his dilemma was that he feared to cross the line if there were one.  He had a large family, and knew the  risks.

  • jj

    I don’t actually feel bad for anybody demanding – and getting – $9,000 a day.

  • Mike Devx

    The unions are outraged, of course, that anyone is suggesting a connection between the patient’s death and the strike. 

    Of course they will pretend to be “outraged”.  But the connection is obvious. Clear. And true.

    When the snowstorm hit NY City this past winter, and the snow plows did NOT roll, in protest of something, people were harmed and some even died because medical assistance could not arrive in time.  The people of the city rightly judged the union to be the cause of the death and the suffering.  The same is true here.  

    Actions have consequences.   Nurses going on strike while they have patients that have been under their care, and who must continue to receive care in the hospital… what did the nurses THINK was going to happen?  Their protests of outrage fall on deaf ears in my case.  I blame them and I have no sympathy.  They made their bed by choosing a solidarity strike.  Now the nurses must go lie in that bed.