Nurses' union sues Sutter's CPMC

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By Steven T. Jones and Joe Sciarrillo

The California Nurses Association (CNA) today filed a federal lawsuit to compel the California Pacific Medical Center to comply with two previous binding arbitration rulings and restore healthcare benefits that the unions says the Sutter Health-affiliated facility illegally cut.

The arbitration helped resolve last year's CNA strikes at CPMC facilities, and they came against the backdrop of other controversies involving CPMC in San Francisco, including efforts to scale back primary care services at St. Luke’s Hospital, which serves poor Mission residents, while trying to open a high-end hospital on Cathedral Hill.

Sutter and CPMC have long tried to break its outspoken nurses union, which has pushed progressive reforms such as single-payer health care and high nurse-to-patient ratios. A March 2008 CPMC press release (PDF) criticizing the CNA strikes quoted a nurse claiming that employee conditions were fine. "During the time I've been working here the conditions have been great," said Rosangel Klein, R.N., an oncology nurse at the Pacific campus.

But Nato Green, the labor representative for the CNA nurses at CPMC and St. Luke’s hospital, believes that CPMC is acting like an elite employer out of step with San Francisco values. He claims that it is “the worst non-profit hospital when it comes to charity care,” and he also fault its for union busting and rejection of recent arbitrations.

Despite CPMC’s refusal to uphold healthcare contracts and reimburse nurses’ medical payments, the Guardian has reported that its parent organization enjoyed a net income in 2006 of more than $500 million and employed sketchy tactics to pocket millions while maintaining its non-profit tax status.