3/22/08

Union nurses stream across picket line

Registered nurses employed by Fremont-Rideout Health Group hit the picket lines Friday in an attempt to force hospital administrators back to the negotiating table. The nurses have been without a new contract for about a year. Roughly 50 joined the picket lines early Friday morning at both Fremont and Rideout hospitals. By noon, an organized rally drew 150 nurses, family members, community members, and representatives from local labor unions. They encouraged nurses to stand their ground.

Fremont-Rideout CEO Theresa Hamilton said 147 nurses employed by Fremont-Rideout crossed the picket line and reported to work during the day shift, which begins at 7 a.m. at both hospitals. Ninety-four nurses reported for the evening shift, Fremont-Rideout said.

Hamilton and other hospital administrators said they do not see a need to resume negotiations.

"Our, best, last and final offer is generous and competitive," said Tresha Moreland, vice president of human resources.

Hospital administrators turned the strike — meant to be a 24-hour demonstration — into a lockout. Fremont-Rideout officials said that in order to get quality replacement nurses, they needed to offer them 10-day contracts. A simultaneous strike by nurses at Bay Area hospitals has made the business of getting temporary nurses competitive.

Striking local nurses say this was simply an intimidation tactic meant to encourage them to report to work.

Nadene Henderson, an RN at the Fremont-Rideout Cancer Center, said she would have participated in the strike, regardless of its duration.

"I'm disappointed the hospital decided to lock us out," she said.

The last offer made by hospital officials in January — which they claim is final — includes a 5.5 percent wage increase, additional retirement benefits and easier access to health care provided by Fremont-Rideout facilities.

That offer, they said, is still on the table.

Moreland said the nurses are trying to force mandatory union membership, which would only serve to benefit the union. Administrators want membership to remain optional.

Pro-union nurses rejected the offer three weeks after it was presented.

Nurses who have crossed the picket line say that working is their own way of fighting for patient care.

Stephanie Bone, one of three RNs selected by hospital administrators to speak on behalf of non-striking nurses, reported to work through each of the three strikes.

"I didn't become a nurse to turn my back on a patient," she said. "I don't think walking out is a way to solve issues."

Striking nurses said they will not back down or accept the offer from hospital administration.

They have attracted some support from local residents.

Lee Bright, 59, of Marysville, has monthly doctor visits at the Cancer Center. He said he has witnessed intimidation of nurses inside the hospital.

"The nurses have a right to have a life. I back them 100 percent," Bright said.

Rose Sanders, a striking emergency room RN from Rideout, said pro-union nurses are fighting for a closed shop so that all nurses can benefit from the union's work.

"We don't want people to get all the benefits and not contribute," Sanders said.

(appeal-democrat.com)

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