Nurses walk out at Doctors Medical Center, Emanuel after 12 months of negotiations

Hundreds of nurses walked picket lines and attended rallies Friday as a one-day strike was held at two hospitals in Stanislaus County.

Members of the California Nurses Association walked out at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto and Emanuel hospital in Turlock. It was part of a strike affecting a dozen hospitals owned by Tenet Healthcare Corp. in California, Arizona and Florida.

Union representatives have been in negotiations with Tenet for 12 months without coming to agreement on new labor contracts for the registered nurses. Negotiating sessions involving Doctors and Emanuel were held Monday through Thursday without a resolution in the talks.

The previous contract spelling out terms of employment for the 1,200 registered nurses at Doctors expired Dec. 31.

Tenet released a statement saying the hospitals in Modesto and Turlock were fully operational despite the walkout by nursing staff. The company said “qualified and experienced” replacement nurses and other caregivers were brought in to care for patients.

“We have been negotiating in good faith with the union to reach a new contract,” the company’s statement said. “We are disappointed that the union is taking this strike action, which in our view is not constructive or necessary. We have made progress toward a new contract and will continue to negotiate in good faith in hopes of resolution.”

The company did not respond to questions about the economics of a new contract with nursing staff. Salary increases in the health care industry are considered a factor in the rising costs of health care.

According to union representatives, the unresolved issues in the talks include the alleged abuse of “on-call” language in the previous contract, which results in nurses being called back to work after completing their shifts. The nurses also complain about under-staffing that causes them to miss rest and meal breaks, which is not conducive to safe and adequate patient care, the union said.

As a precaution, union members participating in the strike at Doctors brought plastic buckets to Friday’s rally outside the hospital on Florida Avenue. In May, the union accused hospital administration of activating lawn sprinklers multiple times during a demonstration held by sign-toting nurses.

Bianca Signorelli, a chief nurse representative on the negotiating team, said the plan was to place the buckets over sprinkler heads if the watering system came on Friday. The sprinklers remained off during an hourlong rally.

The 24-hour strike was scheduled to end at 7 a.m. Saturday.