Federal Court Blocks Sutter Alta Bates Summit Bid to Roll Back RN Jobs, Health Coverage
RNs say: ‘short staffing, loss of experienced RNs puts patients and communities at risk’
A U.S. federal court judge late Friday blocked an attempt by Sutter Health’s Alta Bates Summit Medical Center to unilaterally impose sweeping cuts on its entire registered nurse workforce that threatened job rights and health coverage for 1,700 RNs in Oakland and Berkeley.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg issued a temporary restraining order finding that the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, which brought the request, “has shown that its member nurses are likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief,” and that a TRO “is in the public interest.”
Further, Judge Seeborg wrote that CNA “has demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits” of its case when the next legal step proceeds, a hearing on a preliminary injunction scheduled for March 12 at the court in San Francisco.
Friday’s TRO was critical to blocking the implementation of the hospital’s hospital wide attack on the nurses that the RNs say will exacerbate an already worsening crisis of unsafe staffing at Alta Bates Summit and the potential loss of scores of the hospital’s most experienced RNs further undermining quality care at the hospital.
Sutter has forced all 1,700 RNs to re-apply for their jobs, with the expectation that it would implement a number of layoffs and slash work hours for many to less than 20 hours for the sole purpose of eliminating their health coverage. All the nurses who had re-bid for jobs were supposed to be in their new positions as of Sunday.
“Sutter’s goal is to unilaterally carry out through dictatorial fiat what it was not able to achieve through the collective bargaining process – a sweeping, punitive cut in jobs and health coverage for nurses and their families in retaliation for the nurses’ refusal to buckle under during a two-year contract fight,” said CNA Co-President Deborah Burger, RN.
“CNA will never accept this disgraceful attack on our member’s rights, their livelihood, and the health security of their families, and their patients,” Burger said.
With a new contract in place following the contract battle, that included nine strikes in which the RNs refused to accept up to 200 concession demands, the hospital is legally required to submit contract disputes to a grievance and arbitration process, which Sutter Alta Bates has refused to do.
Instead, under the pretext of additional cuts in patient care services, Sutter Alta Bates has sought to immediately and unilaterally implement the concessions it was unable to win in bargaining. The patient care cuts include closure of an inpatient infusion center, an inpatient skilled nursing facility, and an inpatient oncology unit which provides care for cancer patient at the Oakland hospital.
The RNs have held several public protests against the closures and the attacks on the RNs, citing how reductions at the hospital have already led to critical short staffing that puts patients at risk.
At a February rally of 200 RNs at the Alta Bates Summit Oakland campus, a nurse delegation presented 500 reports of unsafe staffing to hospital managers who have failed to act on a repeated concerns by nurses about what they call unsafe conditions. The reports were handed to Steve O’Brien, chief medical officer for Alta Bates Summit, and Julie Petrini, the hospital’s chief financial officer and an RN executive. Neither has yet to respond.
“Many of our units are bursting with patients while Sutter is understaffed, and now it wants to do layoffs,” said Lucy Riley, RN at the rally.
“It's not right, it's not safe, it's not community based, it's not non-profit, stop it,” said RN Ann Gaebler.