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Nurses Go on Strike at the Watsonville Community Hospital

Baha Eldin, KION, 8/15/14

Jennifer Holm, RN being interviewed by KION's Baha Eldin

WATSONVILLE, Calif. - More than 200 nurses in Watsonville began a three-day strike Thursday.  It's part of a contract dispute with hospital management.

Nurses on the picket line were shouting slogans like, "Nurses United" and "Can't Be Divided."  They said they have two main reasons for going on strike-- safer working conditions and more staff.  

For the nurses at the hospital, it was time to take their contract dispute public.  

"We feel that we're not able to get in writing what we need in the contract to ensure that patient care," isn't compromised, said nurse Jennifer Holm.

To the nurses, that means safer conditions -- like having extra staff members who can do the heavy lifting that may be required when attending to patients.

"We've got a staffing crisis on some units where nurses are working 16 hours at a time regularly," Holm said.

The long hours are another big concern for the nurses, who say the hospital can do better.  

"I think they should listen to us, the people, the nurses that are on the unit dealing with the patients," said nurse Gloria Amaya.

Nurses also were on strike Thursday at Queen of the Valley Medical center in Napa and Sutter Tracy Community Hospital. The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United represents the registered nurses at all three hospitals. 

Watsonville's striking RNs say relations with local hospital officials have been aggravated by a hard line pushed by corporate executives at Tennessee-based Community Health Systems - which now operates the former locally-owned and operated hospital in Watsonville.

"We raise serious concerns about safe staffing and clinical practices but we receive no serious response. We are talking about patients’ lives,” said Roseann Farris, a critical care RN at Watsonville. “We need to take this action in order for the hospital to take our concerns seriously."

CHS is the largest for-profit hospital chain in the U.S. with 206 hospitals in 29 states, and they've been sanctioned in the past for labor violations around the country.

The Watsonville Community Hospital issued a statement saying despite the current strike, the hospital is open and fully staffed in each department.  A hospital spokesperson said temporary nurses are being bussed in to fill in for the nurses who are on strike.

The hospital has an orange fence restricting the striking nurses to just outside on the sidewalk and around the hospital, and this strike is supposed to last until early Sunday morning. 

Until then, the nurses said the picketing will continue.   Union representatives say they'll continue their fight with this hospital, and maybe others, until their voices are heard.

"They're concerned a union success here is going to carry on to other nurses in their hospitals," said Damian Tryon, a representative with the California Nurses Association.

The striking nurses say they've ensured there will be a patient protection task force at Sutter Tracy to assist in the event of a genuine patient care emergency inside the hospital.

Click here to view video of the strike at Watsonville Community Hospital.

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