Over 1,000 LA Nurses Finish Weeklong Strike Today, Saying Work Conditions Are Dangerous for Patients

Mario Vasquez

LAMC nurses hold their collected 800 incident sheets on the picket line.

One thou­sand two hun­dred reg­is­tered nurs­es with the Cal­i­for­nia Nurs­es Asso­ci­a­tion (CNA), an affil­i­ate of the Nation­al Nurs­es Unit­ed (NNU), went on a week­long strike last Tues­day that ends today, in demand of a first con­tract set­tle­ment with their employ­ers at the Kaiser Per­ma­nente Los Ange­les Med­ical Cen­ter (LAMC). The CNA mem­bers say they want LAMC man­age­ment agrees to a con­tract that fix­es chron­ic under­staffing that nurs­es argue is putting patients’ lives at risk.

The LAMC is the main hos­pi­tal for Kaiser Per­ma­nente patients requir­ing spe­cial­ized and crit­i­cal care in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Kaiser cur­rent­ly runs 800 med­ical facil­i­ties across the coun­try (most of which are in Cal­i­for­nia) and makes bil­lions in year­ly prof­its. But nurs­es have been crit­i­cal of what they say is fre­quent under­staffing. LAMC nurs­es who spoke with In These Times are adamant that man­age­ment poli­cies now in place make for dan­ger­ous work­ing and heal­ing con­di­tions in the hos­pi­tal. (Kaiser did not imme­di­ate­ly respond to a request for comment.)

Cal­i­for­nia was the first U.S state to imple­ment min­i­mum nurse-to-patient staffing ratios in 2004, but reg­is­tered nurse San­dra Henke believes there are still holes caused by mis­man­age­ment. She says, The prob­lem is that Kaiser doesn’t give us resource nurs­es or break nurs­es so that when we go out on break that is man­dat­ed by law, the man­age­ment says, Here you cov­er that nurse that has 3 patients, and you take care of your own 3,’” there­fore skew­ing the ratio.

They expect, Cov­er your friend over there so they can go to break,’ instead of hav­ing a ded­i­cat­ed break nurse, and what we want to have is these ratios put into the con­tract for safe staffing,” Henke added.

Research on nurse work­load strong­ly sug­gests that low­er ratios are asso­ci­at­ed with sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­er patient mor­tal­i­ty. Yazmin Gax­i­o­la, a reg­is­tered nurse strik­ing at LAMC, tells In These Times that nurs­es are also expect­ed to work in units out­side their area of exper­tise, and are often under pres­sure to not take breaks or risk fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing the ratios of oth­er nurse.

We tell admin­is­tra­tion that this is not safe. I some­times feel that they are wait­ing for some­body to either die or some­thing to hap­pen before they can address the issues,” she says. In an attempt to pro­tect them­selves from los­ing their nurs­ing licens­es and cre­ate a record of patient advo­ca­cy, CNA says they have col­lect­ed 800 inci­dent sheets detail­ing unsafe assign­ments from LAMC nurs­es in the past eight months. At a pick­et line last Wednes­day, nurs­es strung these sheets into a ban­ner that stretched across a city block out­side the facility.

The LAMC nurs­es also claim that they are the low­est paid Kaiser nurs­es in the state, receiv­ing no cost-of-liv­ing or wage increas­es in the last six years. They vot­ed to join CNA-NNU in June 2015, mem­bers say, in order to reverse this trend, seek­ing a con­tract sim­i­lar to the one CNA had secured for 18,000 Kaiser nurs­es in North­ern and Cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia.

I take care of the sick­est patients, … and yet I get paid so much less. What we’re ask­ing Kaiser for is par­i­ty — pay us the same [as nurs­es at oth­er Kaiser facil­i­ties] and keep our ben­e­fits. I don’t think that makes me greedy,” Gax­i­o­la says.

Kaiser has said in recent state­ments that its last con­tract pro­pos­al was excel­lent”, but union mem­bers counter that the hun­dreds of nurs­es that had reviewed the pro­pos­al felt dis­re­spect­ed,” accord­ing to Kaiser Divi­sion Direc­tor at CNA, Karen Chan. Last month, 1100 out of 1200 nurs­es at LAMC signed a strike autho­riza­tion peti­tion, lead­ing to the longest strike at LAMC since 1990. It was not enough to com­pen­sate them for the com­plex role they play in the deliv­ery of health­care,” Chan says.

While the com­pen­sa­tion demands from front­line care work­ers at LAMC are hard to secure, Kaiser Cal­i­for­nia seems far more will­ing to com­pen­sate exec­u­tives at the high­est lev­els, all while ben­e­fit­ing from gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies. The Insti­tute for Health and Socio-Eco­nom­ic Pol­i­cy pub­lished a report in 2012, Ben­e­fit­ing from Char­i­ty Care: Cal­i­for­nia Not-for-Prof­it Hos­pi­tals”, find­ing that 17 exec­u­tives at the pri­vate, not-for-prof­it Kaiser made over $1 mil­lion a year in com­pen­sa­tion for a total of $32.3 mil­lion. In addi­tion to top-brack­et exec­u­tive pay, Kaiser is able to receive mil­lions in tax exemp­tions every year ($789 mil­lion in 2010, accord­ing to analy­sis by IHSP) because of its non-prof­it sta­tus, great­ly sur­pass­ing the amount set aside for char­i­ty care.

The union nurs­es at LAMC do have an ally in the mat­ter: pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders of Ver­mont, who wrote a pub­lic let­ter to William Grice, the Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of LAMC on Sun­day night. I am writ­ing to urge you to bar­gain in good faith with the Kaiser Los Ange­les Med­ical Cen­ter nurs­es for a fair con­tract that val­ues their role in pro­vid­ing high qual­i­ty health care,” said Sen. Sanders. In August 2015, NNU endorsed Sanders for pres­i­dent, cit­ing his pro­pos­al for a Medicare-for-All sys­tem and history.

This is how we’re going to let Kaiser know that we need to have patient ratios in a con­tract, we need to have paid staffing in a con­tact – we need to have them lis­ten to the nurs­es,” Henke said.

Mario Vasquez is a writer from south­ern Cal­i­for­nia. He is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Work­ing In These Times. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @mario_vsqz or email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)/*= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, &#’));while ( – j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute(‘data-eeEncEmail_JkRTuBCpnw’))el[j].innerHTML = out;/*]]>*/.
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