Nurses walk out after sale of hospitals to Santa Clara County

A one-day nurse’s strike on Tuesday took place at two different Santa Clara County hospitals.

The walkouts were planned at O’Connor Hospital in San Jose and St. Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy. The strike will be over on Wednesday at 6:59 a.m.

Rallies are planned for Tuesday afternoon. The nurses say they are concerned about potential service cuts, and the county’s lack of commitment to maintain working conditions and wages necessary to retain experienced RNs. According to nurses, other facilities operated by the county experience high nurse turnover due to wages and staffing levels not being on par with St. Louise and O’Connor under operation by Verity Health, which filed for bankruptcy in August.

Also, the nurses worry the county may eliminate essential patient services for the local communities. The RNs note that O’Connor Hospital and Santa Clara Valley Medical Center are very close to each other and the county may attempt to close one of the two emergency rooms. 

Nurses from Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, a county facility, went before the county Board of Supervisors at least twice last year to complain about chronic short staffing, and what they called the “revolving door” of nurses who leave for other jobs with better pay and better working conditions. RNs with St. Louise and O’Connor say they are concerned patient care standards will erode under the control of the county. 

"Without guaranteeing protection of working conditions, salaries, and job security for St. Louise and O’Connor nurses, the county risks the loss of longtime, experienced nurses who understand best how to care for patients in their communities. And that could leave the county with less capacity to care for patients,” said Andrea Bentson, an emergency department nurse at St. Louise Regional Hospital. “We don’t want to see that happen.”

The unrest comes after both hospitals were sold to Santa Clara County. With the deal, the more than 700 nurses part of the California Nurses Association are required to join another union – the Registered Nurses Professional Association.

The strike is to protest that move.

County Executive Jeffrey Smith called the strike unlawful and said the CNA hadn’t taken steps necessary to lawfully represent county employees.

In a statement, he said: "The County respects the right of its employees to select the organization of their choice for purposes of representation.  The California Nurses Association (CNA) does not currently represent any County employees, nor has it taken any of the steps necessary to become the lawful representative of any County employees. Instead, it is using an unlawful strike in its dispute with other unions that represent the County’s employees at O’Connor and Saint Louise hospitals, trying to force the County to ignore its obligations to those unions. The County will continue to meet its obligation to recognize the existing unions that represent our employees in accordance with existing contracts, as well as applicable laws, rules and regulations.

The County acquired O’Connor Hospital, St. Louise Regional Hospital, and the De Paul Health Center to expand access to healthcare for all County residents, and to preserve the jobs of more than 1,600 employees. This important work will continue during the CNA work action today. The County has taken all necessary steps to ensure that high-quality medical services, patient care, and all hospital operations will be unaffected by the CNA work action."