- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 20, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Hundreds of nurses in the San Francisco Bay area were braving rain showers to walk picket lines after going on strike Tuesday, union officials said.

Registered nurses, respiratory technicians and X-ray technicians at eight hospitals operated by Sutter Health walked off the job around 7 a.m. in what will be a two-day strike, said California Nurses Association spokesman Chuck Idelson. Nurses at two San Jose hospitals operated by Hospital Corporation of America went on strike for one day.

The strike, the seventh by CNA since September 2011, came as union leaders and hospital officials remained at odds over health benefits, sick leave and other issues.

Union officials say the hospitals want to reduce the number of paid sick days for nurses and technicians, while eliminating health care coverage for those who work less than 30 hours a week.

“Hundreds of employees would lose their health coverage entirely, which is immorally unconscionable by a health care employer,” Idelson said.

Hospital officials say they’ve made a fair contract offer to the nurses, but because of difficult economic times and changes in health care trends, they need to control costs.

“We are going through an incredibly difficult economic time in our country,” said Carolyn Kemp, a spokeswoman for Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland, one of the Sutter hospitals hit by the strike.

“Teachers, firefighters and others are making concessions. We have a very, very healthy contract out there,” she said.

As in past strikes by the CNA, union leaders and hospital executives also disagreed on the number of nurses who either took part in the strike, or the number of nurses crossing over the picket lines.

Idelson said there was “very high level of participation despite the rain,” while Kemp said that 80 percent of the nurses showed up for work at the Summit campus.

The hospitals have hired replacements on five-day contracts during the strike, another sticking issue between the two sides.

Because of the contracts, hospital officials say the striking nurses won’t be allowed to return to work until Sunday.

Tuesday’s strike adds to a growing list of recent strikes in Northern California, including one that began Monday night by custodial and maintenance workers at Oakland International Airport and at the Port of Oakland.

Earlier this month, union workers as West Sacramento-based grocery chain Raley’s walked off the job _ the first strike in the company’s 77-year-history _ and nurses at Sonoma County’s Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital walked off the job for three days _ the second strike in a month, and only the second strike at the hospital since 1986.

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