The Fresno Bee: Nurses union to join Fresno County strike

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By Kurtis Alexander – The Fresno Bee

Friday, Jan. 20, 2012 | 02:45 PM Modified Sat, Jan 21, 2012 12:00 AM

The union representing Fresno County’s public health nurses announced Friday that its members will strike on Monday, joining the larger Service Employee International Union in a three-day walkout.

County nurses, who provide health services at public clinics, the jail and juvenile hall, are staging the demonstration in protest of recent pay cuts. Like SEIU, nurses contend that county management negotiated unfairly during last year’s labor talks and left employees with a raw deal.

“The county leaves us no alternative but to strike,” Mary Morrisson, a public health nurse who works with high-risk infants, said in a news release.

The roughly 75 county nurses represented by the California Nurses Union join the 4,100-member SEIU in announcing a walkout starting Monday morning.

County officials say they have a contingency plan in place to deal with the strike, though widespread service reductions are expected Monday through Wednesday.

Health clinics and libraries could close, and welfare programs such as child support and food stamps may be suspended.

On Friday, the county put out a call for volunteers to help keep the county’s 34 library branches staffed.
Maintaining public safety will be the top priority.

County Administrative Officer John Navarrette said he was disappointed employees are going to this extreme. He has said the workers should recognize the county is not in a position to offer higher salaries.

Union officials have argued that higher-paid employees, many who saw smaller pay cuts last year, should sacrifice more.

Nurses are seeing a pay cut of at least 10%. SEIU members, who work in virtually every county department, are seeing an only slightly smaller reduction.

On Friday, both sides remained entrenched in their positions.

Tom Abshere, director of the local SEIU chapter, said the strike would not be halted, barring a willingness from the county to return to the bargaining table.

Navarrette said the county already has gone back more than a dozen times and hasn’t seen significant movement from the union.
“You can’t meet 14 times over six months and say, ‘Oh, but we’re really serious this time,’ ” Navarrette said.

The state labor board has directed the county and both unions to meet in Sacramento next week to try to resolve the dispute.

The reporter can be reached at kalexander@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6679.

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