A raucous, good-humored crowd of hundreds of nurses gathered this morning in front of the Alta Bates Summit campus on Ashby Avenue to rally for the one-day California Nurses Association strike against “sweeping demands for concessions” from Sutter Health, the hospital’s owner. The nurses listened to music, chanted slogans and cheered the many passing cars and trucks that honked horns in support.
“Too big to fail applies to more than banks,” Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, told Berkeleyside. “It applies to this corporation. These nurses decided to stand up to corporate bullies and say, ‘Enough is enough.’ The 12.5 million AFL-CIO members are standing with them.”
In his speech to the rally, Trumka focused on Sutter’s proposal to end paid sick leave for RNs. “I’m no medical expert, but even I know that having sick nurses care for sick patients is sick,” he said to cheers. “RNs are the hardest working people in the country. You have more responsibility in any one hour than [Sutter executives] have in a year.”
Two issues drew particularly strong responses from the strikers. The $4 million annual pay of Pat Fry, CEO of Sutter Health, came in for widespread derision. Posters at the rally also pointed out five further executives with salaries in excess of $2 million. “If they want to make cuts,” said De Ann McEwen, co-president of the CNA, “they should chop from the top.”
The other touchstone was Sutter’s decision to hire temporary contract workers for five days, rather than the one day of the strike. “How are they cutting costs when they’re spending millions on strike replacement nurses?” asked Charles Idelson, spokesperson for the CNA. “It’s simply punitive. They take a hard line with the nurses.”
Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, attending the rally, said the cuts already implemented by Sutter are “a big issue for Berkeley”. “We’re very worried people will die if they continue to move facilities out of Berkeley,” he said.
Another group of strikers demonstrated outside the Alta Bates Summit Herrick Campus on Dwight Way. The nurses are holding a march and rally in Oakland at lunchtime today. According to Idelson, the nurses hope to be back at work tomorrow, despite Sutter’s insistence that temporary nurses will work until Tuesday.