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Sutter Heath employees set to strike Monday in Santa Rosa, across Bay Area

More than 8,000 nurses and other health care workers at 15 Sutter Health medical facilities across Northern California, including in Sonoma, Marin and Solano counties, are planning to strike Monday in hopes of moving along contract negotiations and sounding the alarm over what some are calling dangerous conditions for patients and staff.

The one-day strike is planned as a protest against “longstanding short staffing and unsafe situations" in Sutter’s facilities, said Amy Erb, a nurse with the company’s California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

Erb said Sutter failed to provide its employees with enough personal protective equipment at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. She and other workers are now urging the company to stockpile PPE.

"Our employer wasn’t providing us with even the basics we needed to keep ourselves and our patients safe,“ she said.

Nurses have been working without a contract since June, and ongoing negotiations with Sutter representatives have not been fruitful, according to a news release from the California Nurses Association.

The Santa Rosa arm of the union voted two weeks ago to strike, with 99% in favor. On April 8, Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital was given a 10-day strike notice, according to a nurse who works for Sutter Health in Santa Rosa who did not want to give his name in fear of retaliation.

“We’re striking to try to keep our retirement and benefits, to make sure we’re safe with enough protective equipment and to have the proper staffing so we don’t put our licenses at risk,” the nurse said.

In addition to asking for more PPE, workers are urging management to increase staffing to a level “that allows nurses to provide safe and therapeutic care,“ according to the association.

Picketing is scheduled from 7 to 11 a.m. and 2 to 6 p.m. Monday. In the Bay Area, the pickets were set to be at Sutter Health facilities in Berkeley, Oakland, Vallejo, Santa Rosa, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Castro Valley, Antioch, Burlingame and Novato.

Sutter Health officials want the union to call off the planned strike, Angie Sheets, a spokeswoman for the organization, said in an email Saturday evening.

“We are hopeful that our continued willingness to bargain in good faith will encourage the union to call off this costly and disruptive strike and instead work toward an agreement that recognizes our nurses for their important work while maintaining the strength and stability of our hospitals for all who depend upon us,” Sheets said.

Though replacement workers have been hired, hospitals have had to cancel some surgeries and procedures and are discharging patients, according to the nurse, who said he has been working for Sutter Health for 12 years. Sutter did not confirm or comment on those details Saturday evening.

Sutter has proposed decreasing insurance benefits and retirement packages, as well as changing current staffing practices to allow nurses from different pods to go to any department where a nurse is needed, regardless of their specialty, the Santa Rosa nurse explained.

“It could be like maternity nurses going to treat patients on the oncology floor,” he said. “They would have no idea how to take care of those patients. We feel that is completely unsafe.”

Request for comment from the California Nurses Association was not immediately returned Saturday evening.

Staff Writer Matt Pera contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Kathleen Coates at kathleen.coates@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5209.

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