California nurses rally for higher staffing levels

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Nurses at University of California hospitals around the state are rallying to demand a new contract with increased staffing levels.

Thursday's rallies come after a San Francisco judge barred the 11,000 nurses from staging a one-day strike for at least two weeks. The judge agreed with UC officials that a strike would pose a health risk to patients although he did agree to consider the issue further at a June 18 hearing.

The nurses and UC officials are at odds over salaries and staffing levels, as they begin contract discussions. Nurses say staffing levels often fall below state-mandated levels during breaks or shift changes.

UC officials say they are complying with state staffing requirements.

But nurses at a San Pedro hospital say they were locked out even though the strike was called off. Nurse Denise Wise-West helped lead a protest outside Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center. She condemned medical center boss Nancy Carlson for bringing in replacement RNs.

"Those in there, what they call “scabs” – they’re our sisters and brothers, too, " said Wise-West. "But as the CEO, you need to be a different thing from a boss... a boss and a leader are two different things. A boss causes dissension. A leader brings people together. Nancy Carlson, step up and be a leader."

Providence-Little Company of Mary issued a statement that says it hired qualified replacement RNs on five-day contracts when the strike was announced. The strike didn’t happen – but the replacement nurses will stay on the job. The hospital says nurses can go back to work on June 15.

The rallies are being held at UC hospitals in Davis, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Irvine and Santa Monica.

KPCC's Corey Moore contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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