L.A. County nurses to strike in protest of limited staffing

More than 7,000 nurses who work in one of the country’s largest public health systems are expected to begin a strike at 7 a.m. Tuesday, protesting what they describe as unsafe and illegal patient-to-nurse ratios and generally inadequate staffing.

Registered nurses and nurse practitioners at Los Angeles County hospitals and community-based clinics will participate, including those who work in emergency rooms, operating rooms, intensive care units and mental health centers, according to Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents the nurses.

They will picket outside of hospitals and hold a demonstration at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday morning, a union spokeswoman said. They have been authorized to strike for four days.

About 200 nurses identified by their union and the county as crucial to patient safety have received “line passes” to cross the picket line and will continue to work, SEIU spokeswoman Coral Itzcalli said in an interview.

Still, Itzcalli said, “a strike is a strike. There’s going to be an impact. That’s why we are urging management to take this seriously.”


The nurses’ labor contract with the county expired in September. They voted to go on strike, Itzcalli said, because they regularly carry patient loads higher than the maximum allowed by state law.

“That violation puts patients at risk and it also puts the nurses at risk personally because of their licensing,” Itzcalli said.

The county’s inability to retain qualified nurses is also a main sticking point.

“While L.A. County can recruit and hire nurses, they cannot keep them,” union president Bob Schoonover said at a Board of Supervisors meeting this month.

Schoonover said that L.A. County-USC Medical Center hired 100 ER nurses in the last three years but lost 66.

“Nursing is a profession where experience matters, where the insight [and] knowledge that only comes with time can be the difference between life and death,” Schoonover told the supervisors.

A spokeswoman for the county declined to comment, but the Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday on whether to authorize the county’s Health Agency to hire additional staff on contract, transfer patients to private facilities and reimburse those providers at higher-than-normal rates in order to respond during the strike.

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