Sutter Santa Rosa Nurses Vote to Approve Possible Strike

With a large turnout Thursday, registered nurses at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital voted by 98 percent to authorize their nurse negotiators to call a strike, if needed, to protest the hospital’s refusal to act on their concerns for improved patient care staffing and management demands for significant cuts in health coverage for the nurses and their families.

Santa Rosa is the latest Sutter hospital in the past few weeks where RNs have voted to approve possible strikes with nearly unanimous votes.

Strike authorization has already occurred at Sutter Roseville Medical Center, a 96 percent strike vote, Sutter Auburn Faith, a 94 percent margin, Sutter Tracy, a 94 percent vote, and Mills-Peninsula Health Services, with facilities in Burlingame and San Mateo, a 97 percent margin. Together the five medical centers have nearly 2,600 RNs, represented by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United. No date has been set for a possible strike.   

"Sutter is trying to force nurses to pay enormous out of pocket costs for healthcare, up to $10,000 per year for services, outside of monthly premium costs,” said Sutter Santa Rosa RN Nancy Anderson. “This employer is offering health care plans to the public that are better than what they are offering their own nurses. We need adequate health care for ourselves and our families and we need safe staffing that allows us to, minimally, take meals and breaks."   

At each facility the RNs are fighting similar Sutter demands for cuts that nurses say will erode patient safety by a chain with a notorious history in recent years of cutting patient services while rolling up huge profits – nearly $3.5 billion the past five years.

“This vote shows that we are prepared to fight Sutter’s slash-and-burn agenda," said Mills Peninsula RN Chris Picard. “As a nurse negotiator I am proud to stand with my fellow Mills-Peninsula RNs today: united, determined, and strong.”

"Many Sutter Tracy nurses came out to vote yes to a strike because they see power in solidarity. Over the last month, nurses have been collectively advocating for safe staffing by voicing their concerns and filling out ADOs (Assignment Despite Objection forms, which nurses provide to management documenting what they believe to be an unsafe patient assignment). Nurses are seeing what it really means to stand united,” said Sutter Tracy RN Victoria Lat, RN.

 â€¨At Roseville, where the RNs held a picket earlier this month, the nurses cite budget cuts and a resulting lack of beds that have meant patients are being admitted with no hospital beds available. The patients are then housed in the ER, limiting the ability of ER nurses to safely care for other patients needing emergency care while they have to also monitor and provide care for patients who should be in an inpatient hospital bed. It also results in RNs from other hospital units having to leave their patient assignments to work in the ER. 

“We’re fighting for patient safety, we’re fighting against unsafe staffing,” says Roseville RN Jennifer Barker Andrea Seils, RN. She notes staffing cuts in the labor and delivery unit where she works are being carried out under the guise of  “efficiency” that nurses say is actually about cost cutting at the expense of care. According to Seils, “They’re trying to restructure our unit to eliminate positions and combine care. It’s unsafe for mothers and babies in our community.”

Additionally, Roseville nurses say Sutter is demanding more than 30 reductions in the RNs’ existing health coverage, including big increases in out of pocket costs for nurses, all of which are paid to Sutter under Sutter Health’s self-insured plan. These costs exceed what county and school district employees covered by Sutter’s HMO pay to Sutter Health.

 “There’s no economic or operations justification for any of their proposals,” says Seils. “The strike vote will send a strong message to Sutter Health that RNs are serious about fighting for patient care.” 

In Auburn, the overwhelming strike vote was intended, said Sutter Auburn Faith RN Sandy Ralston, “to serve as a very strong signal to the employer that nurses are not willing to accept the significant health care cost increases being proposed by Sutter. It also sends an unmistakable message about staffing safely by acuity and that we are united in our commitment to a fair and just contract. ”  

CNA/NNU nurses are also engaged in a similar battle for a fair contract at Sutter’s California Pacific Medical Center-Pacific campus in San Francisco, Sutter Lakeside, Sutter Santa Cruz (a visiting nurses home health service), and Sutter Solano in Vallejo.