by Rachel Swan
Twenty-three thousand California health care workers are picketing outside their workplaces today, drawing attention to a massive debate over contract negotiations at Sutter Health. The demonstration, which may be the largest of its kind, began the same most employee pickets do — with a debate over cuts and benefits. Since health care is one of the few industries that appears to be thriving during the economic downturn, nurses can still clash with hospitals over benefits, pay, and pensions. Right now workers at Sutter are rankled over increases in health premium and retirement contributions, as well as cuts to paid sick-leave, which, workers note, would endanger patients besides inconveniencing workers.
Although Kaiser's nurses reached a deal with the hospital on September 1, which grants them a 2 percent wage increase twice a year in addition to a 1 percent annual lump sum payment and no changes to benefits, they too have decided to walk out, mostly in "sympathy" with peers at Sutter. KTVU news cameras showed a fairly packed demonstration on Howe Street today, as hundreds of orange-shirted workers marched in front of the Fabiola building. They might not shut the hospital down, but it sure doesn't bode well for patients seeking "quality care" today.