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N. California Nurses Picket

January 29, 1998

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Thousands of registered nurses picketed against 54 Kaiser Permanente medical facilities while Northern California grappled with a heavy flu season.

The walkout is the nurses’ fourth since their contract expired a year ago. The two-day strike that started Wednesday comes mostly over staffing levels.

The strike has had a ripple effect on other hospitals, especially emergency and critical care facilities. Public health states of emergency were declared in Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano counties. San Francisco hospitals were ordered to take critical care patients even if they’re full.

``The number of people filling beds hasn’t been this high since 1981,″ said Nathan Nayman of the Hospital Council of Northern and Central California.

The nurses are ``hypocrites″ for striking during a flu epidemic, said Tom Debley, a Kaiser spokesman. ``If they really cared about patients, as they claim to, they would have called off the strike.″

But Rosemary Wood, a nurse and member of the union’s bargaining team, said many nurses were willing to leave the picket line to help with major crises at Kaiser facilities _ an offer Kaiser has rejected.

Striking nurses formed a referral network to offer their services to non-Kaiser hospitals, she said.

The California Nurses Association, with roughly 7,500 nurses, says the health maintenance organization’s cost-cutting tactics have hurt the quality of patient care.

The health care giant serves one of every three Northern Californians with health insurance. It has offered nurses a 2 percent annual raise for six years in the San Francisco Bay area and 2 percent a year to all Northern California nurses based on performance.

No new talks are scheduled, but Kaiser spokeswoman Lila Petersen said today that talks may be held next week.

Service Employees International Union, Local 250, the union that represents most Kaiser employees, has advised members to cross picket lines. The AFL-CIO also has asked the union to participate in the national labor-management partnership it has forged with Kaiser, rather than go on strike.

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