Over 1,000 Nurses at Kaiser Sunset to Strike Wednesday in Defense of Patient Care

NewsFebruary 28, 2011

RNs at Kaiser’s flagship Southern California hospital demand enforceable staffing ratios in first walkout in two decades

What: Nurses on strike for patient care

When: Wednesday, March 2, 6:00AM – Thursday, March 3, 6:00AM. Rallies on Wednesday at noon and 4PM.

Where: Kaiser Los Angeles Medical Center, 4867 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles

Visuals: Nurses with picket signs, chanting and marching

Nurses available for interview in English, Spanish and Tagalog

LOS ANGELES – Over a thousand Registered Nurses at Kaiser Permanente’s flagship hospital in Southern California will walk off the job this Wednesday in a 24-hour strike to protest Kaiser’s unfair labor practices, including its refusal to bargain in good faith, and to protect patient care standards at the hospital. Wednesday’s strike will be the first by nurses at Kaiser Los Angeles Medical Center (LAMC) in over twenty years, and the first strike by any workers at any Kaiser facility since 1997.

Nurses Demand Safe Staffing

RNs at Kaiser LAMC are fighting to hold the line against an erosion of patient care standards. As members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), the hospital’s nurses have proposed that management provide them with effective recourse to enforce staffing ratios that are adequate for safe and effective patient care, and have called for protections against the risky practice of assigning nurses to care for patients whose conditions and needs are beyond their experience and training.

“You can’t provide quality patient care without adequate staffing,” said Carol Short, an RN in the Cardiac Surgery Unit for 30 years. “By refusing to establish safe staffing ratios that nurses can enforce, Kaiser administrators are allowing inconsistent and often risky standards of care. Nurses are front line advocates for our patients. We have to make sure that patient care is our hospital’s first priority, so that’s what we’re doing.”

“Kaiser was once an industry leader in listening to caregivers,” Short continued. “We’d like them to start acting that way again.”

Kaiser LAMC on Sunset Boulevard is known as the premier Kaiser hospital for Southern California, where the sickest patients go to receive the most complex treatments. Yet nurses report higher than average levels of staff turnover and RNs have starting wages that are fully $15 per hour less than wages for their counterparts in Northern California, including Fresno and other areas with much lower costs of living than greater Los Angeles. Nurses routinely maximize overtime hours to make ends meet, leaving the most vulnerable patients with caregivers who are overworked and fatigued.

In Northern California, Kaiser has agreed to contract language providing enforceable staffing levels for nurses represented by the California Nurses Association, in effect establishing a two-tier system of patient care in which patients at Southern California hospitals face greater potential risks than their counterparts in the north.

At Kaiser LAMC, nurses see how short staffing impacts patient care on a daily basis. A nurse in the Intermediate Cardiac Surgical Unit described being assigned to three patients at once, one of whom stopped breathing and needed immediate attention. At the same time, a second patient went into atrial fibrillation after his heart valves failed, and a visitor in the patient’s room had chest pains and fainted. The situation “could have resulted in death,” says the nurse.

Kaiser Refusing to Bargain in Good Faith

Kaiser LAMC nurses have been at the negotiating table for over a year, during which time Kaiser Permanente has refused to bargain in good faith toward a fair resolution of their contract. For nearly a year following their decision to join NUHW, Kaiser flagrantly violated the law by withholding raises and benefits scheduled in their prior contract with the Service Employees International Union.
An Administrative Law Judge
 with the National Labor Relations Board called Kaiser’s conduct “without legal merit” and “inherently destructive” of basic worker rights. A federal judge agreed, issuing a 10j injunction ordering Kaiser Permanente to reinstate the raises and benefits to NUHW nurses, which Kaiser has done.

National Struggle for Workers’ Rights

The Kaiser nurses’ strike comes at a time of major labor upheavals all over the country, as workers fend off attacks on their collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin and other states. In a letter to the nurses at Kaiser LAMC, Sandy Peart, past President of the Lafayette County Memorial Hospital Employees Union in Darlington, Wisconsin, wrote:

“When I heard that NUHW nurses at Kaiser Los Angeles Medical Center were preparing to strike for patient care, I realized that our struggle in Wisconsin isn’t just about union families here in our state. It’s a fight for workers all over the country, and so is yours. Our fight here in the Wisconsin State Capitol is the same as your fight at Kaiser LAMC. We’re one, giant picket line, from Los Angeles to the Midwest.”