Oakland nurses strike over health benefits

About 800 registered nurses are striking today in Oakland over a contract dispute that centers on healthcare benefits. 

The nurses at Children's Hospital Oakland say the facility is pushing higher cost-sharing requirements — up to $4,000 annually — on RNs at the same time the hospital is paying out millions of dollars in administrative salaries.

“Generations of nurses worked hard to win the standards we have today, especially here at Children’s Hospital,” RN Anna Smith, one of the nurse negotiators, said in a statement. “My generation is not going to lead the way turning the clock back. Hands off our healthcare.”

The nurses, who plan a three-day strike, have been working without a contract since mid-July.

For its part, Children's Hospital defended the benefit cuts, arguing the tough economy is forcing its hand.  

"We're having an economic downturn all over the country and health costs are escalating all over," Children's spokeswoman Erin Goldsmith told The San Francisco Chronicle. "We feel the union leadership is out of touch with the economic environment."

The average RN salary at the hospital is $136,000, Goldsmith told the Chronicle.

The CNA has another take. The union said the hospital spent $8.9 million in 2008 on salaries and other compensation for the top 26 top administrators — a figure that includes social club memberships.

“Cutting health benefits for nurses, other hospital workers and our families is an unfair and unnecessary way for the hospital to make up for years of bad management,” said Martha Kuhl, a nurse at Children's Hospital and treasurer of the California Nurses Association (CNA), which organized the strike.