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.