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Oakland Children’s Hospital Nurses Launch Strike

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Oakland nurses, Children's Hospital

Striking hold pickets signs at Children’s Hospital in Oakland. (CBS)

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OAKLAND (CBS/BCN/AP) – Hundreds of nurses at Children’s Hospital in Oakland began a three-day strike Tuesday morning but the hospital remains open, staffed by skilled pediatric replacement nurses from across the country, hospital spokeswoman Erin Goldsmith said.

“Everything at the hospital is going just fine,” Goldsmith said.

She said 125 replacement nurses began working with hospital staff Monday in preparation for the strike. Tuesday they are working under the supervision of 50 to 60 managing nurses who are not represented by the California Nurses Association, the union representing the striking nurses.

The nurses were protesting proposed health care benefit hikes that force them to pay more for their coverage.  Goldsmith told the San Francisco Chronicle the average annual salary for a registered nurse at Children’s Hospital is $136,000.

Some elective surgeries have been rescheduled, but otherwise operations at the hospital remain the same and the trauma center and emergency department remain open, Goldsmith said.

Martha Kuhl, a registered nurse who has worked at Children’s Hospital for more than 28 years, said 780 nurses were honoring the picket line Tuesday.

“We’re sad to have to be out here,” Kuhl said.

She said she did not believe that the replacement nurses, also referred to as strike-breakers, had received adequate orientation, but as a safeguard, the striking nurses have formed a patient protection committee so that if there is an emergency, the hospital can call them back to work.

She said the nurses did not want patient care to be impacted by the strike.

The nurses have been trying to negotiate a new contract since before their old contract expired July 13, Kuhl said. Since mid-May, they have had 27 bargaining sessions, but have been unable to reach an agreement, Kuhl said.

A federal mediator worked with the hospital and the union through September to try to resolve the contract dispute, but still no agreement was reached, Goldsmith said.

According to Kuhl, who is one of the negotiators for the union, the problem is that the hospital’s management wants to reduce employee health care benefits, making it too expensive for nurses to have their families treated at Children’s Hospital.

“We’re in the business of health care and we deserve health care ourselves,” Kuhl said.

She said the nurses have offered to take a wage freeze in exchange for keeping health care benefits the same as they were in the previous contract, but the hospital management has reportedly not responded to the offer.

Goldsmith, however, maintained that the union had refused to even look at the hospital’s counter-offer because it didn’t include changes in earlier health care benefit offers.

Both sides said that they remain open to negotiation and would like to return to the bargaining table.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. TheAssociated Press and Bay City News contributed to this report.)

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