Nurses at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center will be home for Christmas Day this year, and patients at the city’s largest hospital will be cared for by contract nurses brought in from other places.
Representatives of the California Nurses Association gave Memorial administrators notice Friday that they were planning a one-day strike on Dec. 22 — a strike of a public medical facility requires a 14-day notice. The CNA represents about 2,000 nurses working at Memorial, and the union has been negotiating for a new contract for nearly six months.
Another negotiation session took place Monday. Diana Hendel, CEO of Memorial Medical and Miller Children’s Hospital said that the union was told that if there was no agreement stopping the strike by 5 p.m. Monday, she would be forced to sign a five-day contract with the company providing the replacement nurses, starting on Dec. 22 and running through Dec. 26.
No agreement was reached.
“The union might have a one-day strike, but we have to sign a five-day contract,” Hendel said. “That means our nurses will not be paid, will not accrue benefits and there will be no holiday (overtime) pay.”
Hendel said the strike and replacement contract will cost Memorial several million dollars, including paying for additional security to deal with strikers and additional supervision to help the replacement staff. But medical services would not be curtailed, she said.
“We will remain fully operational,” she said. “We won’t be canceling any procedures. These are experienced, well-qualified nurses.”
Margie Keenan, an RN who has worked at Memorial for 38 years and is on the CNA board, said the strike is more about patient safety than about money. Memorial made its “last, best and final” offer on Nov. 12, which included a minimum 3% wage increase.
“This strike was called by the nurses,” Keenan said, refuting arguments by Hendel that rank-and-file nurses did not support the union stance. “We are the union. And we want adequate nurses to be at the bedside. This strike was called about patient safety. We work 12-hour shifts, and we need breaks and lunch. We need an adequate number of nurses to cover those breaks and lunches, and we haven’t been able to come to agreement over that.”
Keenan said the union disagreed that Memorial was paying comparable wages, and disputed a Hendel claim that the average nurse made $93,000 a year. Keenan said many nurses had to take more than 30 budget days, or furloughs, in the last year because the administration said there wasn’t enough work to justify higher staffing.
“We are aware of the budget situation and if there is not enough work we take furloughs,” Keenan said. “But the hospital is using those budget days to cut. They are staffing at bare bones, where we’d like to see staffing for some cushion in case of emergencies.”
Hendel said that the union had requested answers to more than 100 questions Friday afternoon along with the strike notice. She said that the union still had not responded specifically to the financial offers made on Nov. 12.
Keenan, meanwhile, characterized Memorial’s action signing a five-day contract for replacement nurses as a lockout.
“We have a one-day strike,” Keenan said. “We still want an agreement. We would continue talking, but there are no more dates set (before Dec. 22). That’s their doing. We still could come to agreement before (the strike).”
The California Nurses Association has represented nurses at Memorial for the last decade. The nurses at Memorial Medical Center last went on strike in 2002, during the CNA’s negotiation of its first contract.