A Strange Way to Help Patients: California Nurses Association Strikes Again!

I suppose if I were a patient at one of Sutter Health’s ten hospitals in Northern California, now at the mid-point of a ten-day long nursing strike, I might find some cold comfort in the California Nurses Association’s claim that this walk-out by 4,000 RNs is a “dramatic stand for improved patient care”, as the union claims.

Fortunately, as a health(y) policy wonk, I have time to look at all sides of the issue. Readers of my analysis of the Schwarzenegger-Nuñez Health Care Deforminator, Model ABX1 1, know that I am no fan of the hospitals’ public policies. Nevertheless, Sutter Health’s response to the strike is convincing, claiming that the CNA’s real goal is to eliminate Sutter’s unique contracting approach. Sutter claims that the CNA generally succeeds in negotiating one contract for an entire hospital system in the state, but each Sutter hospital negotiates its own contract. The CNA always wants more centralization.

The CNA is a remarkable organization – and I don’t mean that in a good way. I have not been around long enough to sketch its descent from a professional association to hard-core union, but the fall has resulted in a group that does not get along well with anybody: not the hospitals, not the health plans, and not even other unions – such as the (hardly less bolshie) Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

When not striking, the CNA occupies itself by scraping up health care horror stories and videoing the “victims” of U.S. health care. It also invests a curiously large fraction of its massive lobbying power in bills that mandate hospitals invest more in acquiring patient-lifting equipment and train the staff in the use thereof. (The CNA argues that without such mandates, nurses and patients are both more prone to injury. Well, ok, but does the CNA really think hospitals aren’t concerned with not dropping patients on the floor, in today’s litigious environment? Actually, if the CNA is such a great union, why can’t it negotiate such investment and training as part of its contracts, instead of relying on state power? Hmmm.)

Oh, and let’s not forget that the CNA is behind state senator Sheila Kuehl’s horrific SB-840, a bill worse than ABX1 1, which would impose government-monopoly health care in California.

And that would serve the CNA’s interest just fine. Sutter Health reminds us that the CNA cannot stand seeing nurses outside its control. Today, the CNA is striking at ten Sutter hospitals, but there are other hospitals that are not suffering strikes – some organized by the CNA, some organized by other unions, and some where nurses are free to ply their profession free of union power.

Imagine the CNA’s power if California’s hospitals were all directly financed and controlled by the state, and all hospital nurses worked under one contract – and one union master! Such would be the case under SB-840, as it actually the case in Canadian provinces. That explains why Canadian nursing unions are the number one (and amongst the few remaining) defenders of government-monopoly health care in Canada. (See, for example, the advocacy website of my home provinces’s British Columbia Nurses’ Union.)

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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