4/1/08

Nurses strike ends with a whimper

Nurses at Fremont-Rideout Medical Group are set to begin trickling back to their hospitals today, more than a week after their third strike in less than a year. The nurses walked out for 24 hours on March 21, but had not been able to return after Fremont-Rideout hired replacements for 10-day terms — a step nurses described as a lockout.

Some strikers will return to the group's Marysville and Yuba City hospitals today, with more to follow Wednesday, according to Heather Avalos, a nurse at Rideout Memorial Hospital's intensive-care unit.

Strikers allied with the nurses' union worked picket lines at Fremont and Rideout hospitals and staged a rally in the latest bid to force the hospital group back to the bargaining table. However, management reported that 147 nurses crossed the picket lines during the strike.

While many strikers found temporary nursing jobs at other hospitals, nurses and their backers conceded the enforced idling has put some union members under strain.

"For some of them, it was a big financial hardship," Avalos said Monday. "The hospital intended it to be such a hardship that nurses wouldn't go on strike. Some of them crossed the picket line because they absolutely could not afford to take those 10 days off."

"I think the lockout was meant to be punitive, to intimidate the nurses," said Dan Lawson, a nurses' union representative. "A 10-day lockout for a one-day strike is unheard of."

According to Tresha Moreland, Fremont-Rideout's human resources vice president, the extended terms were needed to compete for temporary nurses with the Sutter Health hospitals in the Bay Area, where nurses also struck March 21. Those stoppages ended Monday, with about 4,000 nurses returning to work. Despite the strikes, Fremont-Rideout leadership is leaving its previous offer on the table if negotiations resume, said Tresha Moreland, the hospital group's vice president of human resources.

"We won't change our last offer; (the terms) are what they are," said Moreland. "The only thing we've discussed is if there's another strike, we'll continue to take care of our patients."

With no new contract talks in sight, returning nurses need to keep up the pressure on Fremont-Rideout despite the fallout from work stoppages, said Avalos.

"The nurses have worked too hard to give up on it," she said. "Definitely, another strike is not out of the question."

(appeal-democrat.com)

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