More than 1,000 nurses from Long Beach Memorial Medical Center are planning their second daylong strike Thursday for better wages and pensions as their union allies threaten to boycott the hospital.
The recently unionized nurses want a new pension program, better staffing and pay hikes for veteran nurses. If the strike occurs, it will be the second time in three weeks that the nurses have formed a picket line to try to jump-start talks with hospital administrators.
Organizers predicted that this week's event will be larger than the one-day strike held on Oct. 23 because the nurses are expected to be joined by members from as many as five unions.
The unions, which include the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, sent letters last week to Long Beach Memorial administrators threatening to boycott the hospital until the nursing dispute is resolved.
"I think it sends a very powerful message to the hospital that they cannot continue to stonewall the registered nurses' very serious concerns about the future of patient care at Long Beach Memorial," said Charles Idelson, a spokesman for the California Nurses Assn.
Dr. Gainer Pillsbury, chief medical officer at Long Beach Memorial, said his establishment, with its children's hospital, offers services that are not available elsewhere in the Long Beach community and would continue to draw patients.
"We would hope they would continue to go to the best place for patient care, and that's what we're trying to provide," Pillsbury said.
Pillsbury said administrators are evaluating the pension plan sought by the nurses, and several other plans. The nurses want the hospital to fund a pension plan that would guarantee monthly payments after retirement, instead of the current system that operates more like a 401(k) retirement plan.
As for the unions' decision to jump into the fray, Pillsbury said: "We don't like this whole thing. We're used to helping people, not arguing with them."
Jim Santangelo, president of Teamsters Joint Council 42, warned the hospital's chief executive in a Nov. 6 letter of his group's displeasure with the medical center and its decision to boycott the facility.
"We urge you to settle this dispute with the nurses so that we may promote Long Beach Memorial Medical Center as a first-class hospital that respects the rights of its skilled and dedicated RNs," Santangelo wrote.
The group represents 150,000 members.
Last month's one-day strike, the largest job action at a California hospital in more than four years, led to a four-day lockout of the hospital's 1,300 nurses.
A similar situation is expected this week because, Pillsbury said, the hospital is once again arranging to hire about 450 replacement nurses.
Members of the other unions, which include the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union and the General Truck Drivers, Chauffeurs and Helpers Union Local No. 692, are expected to join the nurses on the picket line. The line is scheduled to begin forming at 7 a.m. and will be followed by an evening candlelight vigil.
Kim Craft, a current member and past president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local No. 11, said he plans to join his wife, who is a nurse at Long Beach Memorial, on the picket line.
"Long Beach Memorial has basically refused to negotiate with the nurses, and they have brought in replacements," Craft said.