How the support of other unions will help the CPMC strikers win.

I read the Portside story about the strike at Sutter California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC). It was accurate as far as it went, but there’s a lot more to the Sutter story.

I am a rank and file member of SEIU-UHW, the healthcare workers local in California. I work at the California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) in San Francisco. 800 of us have been on strike at CPMC since Sept. 13.

As I said, the story about Sutter’s violence toward its striking employees is accurate.

Last Thursday it got really rough on the lines. CPMC has hired the notorious Steele Foundation as its security company during the strike. Steele does international security jobs in violent places like Iraq. The Steele Foundation supplied as many as 60 guards to serve as bodyguards for a former Haitian president. In December 2001, Steele Foundation's guards fought back a coup attempt by a paramilitary leader who led two dozen heavily armed men in attacking Haiti’s National Palace, killing four people. They hire former U.S. Special Forces, intelligence officers, and FBI agents. On Thursday, the TV news reported how one of the security guards kicked a pregnant striker after she had been pushed to the ground at one of our picket lines. But we held our lines and we are holding strong.

But our struggle is important for many more reasons than Sutter’s contempt for long term employees like myself.

CPMC is owned by Sutter Health. Sutter is supposed to be non-profit, but it makes almost $500 million a year in profits; CPMC alone makes $135 million a year. Sutter is also violently anti-union. And Sutter represents a model of health care that’s bad for all of us: they invest in new hospitals and care (cardiology, obstetrics) in markets where they can make a lot of money. Then they invest more in those markets, create a monopoly, and raise the prices and make more money—their charges are 80% higher than the average for CA hospitals. If you can’t afford their rates, or you are sick with something they can’t make a lot of money on, the public be damned, you have to go somewhere else.

In fact, the key issues in our strike go right to the heart of who Sutter is. Because Sutter has not bargained in good faith, this is an unfair labor practice strike. We are striking for the right to have a say in safe staffing, demanding the right to take disputes over staffing to arbitration. And we are striking to get CPMC to contribute to a union Training and Upgrading Fund so we are the ones equipped to provide care in the future. Every other hospital system in northern California has already agreed to these standards. So should Sutter. Someone has to take a stand against corporations like Sutter, and we are.

Another reason the strike is important is that whatever anyone else is saying about splits in the labor movement, we don’t have them here in CA around our strike. Every union, in the AFL-CIO and outside the AFL-CIO, is supporting us, coming to our lines and raising money for our strike fund. When our CEO Martin Brotman said we were isolated, the heads of all the unions sent him letters calling him out on his lie and sending their letters to the press. Brotman even said in the paper that we have set ourselves apart from other unions like the California Nurses Association (CNA), trying to divide us from the nurses. We know the nurses also support us. The CNA was supposed to go on strike with us but they settled their contract at the last minute so it’s true that the RNs are now crossing our picket line, but we know they don’t support CPMC management.

We also have our own web site for the strike, “sutterstrikersforpatientcare.com” and many of us post daily blogs about what is really going on on the picket lines.

As I said, it’s time someone stood up to corporations like Sutter, and we are.
sutterstrikersforpatientcare.com