4000 Hospital Workers Strike In California

Striking workers were chanting outside nine Bay-area hospitals Thursday.

The respiratory therapists, food service workers, nursing assistants and other hospital workers are holding the one-day strike to protest heavy work loads.

More than 4,000 workers are expected to show up throughout the day.

Nurses at some of the hospitals have promised to hold a sympathy protest. Social workers and physical therapists in the process of unionizing have also picked up picket signs at some of the hospitals.

Bill Gleeson, a spokesman for Sacramento-based Sutter Health, accused the Service Employees International Union of ``abandoning patients for a picnic and parade. That's not just uncaring and reckless, it's tragic.''

But the union said it was no more reckless than what they say is poor patient care resulting from years of hospital mergers, staff cutbacks and profit-seeking.

``We're taking a stand for quality patient care in our community,'' said Beverly Griffith, a linen distributor at Summit Medical Center in Oakland.

About 760 health care workers at Summit Medical Center were expected to walk off their jobs. About 200 picketers walked the blocks outside the hospital early Thursday, carrying signs that read ``Sutter: Profits before People'' and shouting ``We are health care workers fighting back.''

All but two of the affected hospitals are owned by Catholic Healthcare West and Sutter Health. Four of the hospitals are in Alameda County.

Meantime, the hospitals have had time to prepare. They hired temporary workers and emergency rooms will remain open. However, elective surgeries have been canceled and outpatient care has been cut back. Hospitals are also telling women in labor to call their doctors before heading to maternity wards.

The workers say their one-day walkout is necessary because administrators were putting profits over patients.

One health care analyst says unions are ignoring the bind that hospitals are in because of declining Medicaid and insurance payments.

``Unions have the mindset that says, 'I'm measuring my income against what the CEO makes.' That's ridiculous,'' said Wanda Jones, an industry analyst with New Century Health Care Institute in San Francisco.

``If you took his salary down by 50 percent and spread it around, it would buy them a cup of coffee,'' Jones said.

The threatened walk-off comes at a tough time for area hospitals, according to reporter Larry Chiaroni of CBS station KCBS-AM. The 1,730 nurses at two Stanford hospitals are in their fourth week of a strike and five anesthesiologists at an Oakland hospital resigned last week in a dispute over pay and other issues.

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