Striking California nurses picket, demand equipment, better conditions to fight COVID

(Reuters) - Hundreds of nurses formed a noisy picket line on Thursday across the street from Riverside Community Hospital in Riverside, California, entering the seventh day of a 10-day strike to demand more personal protection equipment (PPE) and better conditions in a county of the state hardest hit by COVID-19.

An agreement between the union and the hospital, which capped the number of patients that could be seen by a nurse, expired at the end of May.

“It’s very difficult and it makes it hard for everyone and my nurses,” 30-year-old Terna Sawyer told Reuters as she wiped away tears. “We just want to be able to work, efficiently, effectively and safely...”

“I think it’s only fair. We’re at ground zero with this virus. ... We should deserve to be safe,” she said.

The nurses claim the influx of coronavirus patients means they have to care for more patients and work longer shifts without breaks. Under the old agreement, the number of patients seen ranged from two to five, depending on the department.

“We’re out here for one reason, we are not in contract negotiations,” said Kerry Cavazos, union chapter president and registered nurse in the hospital’s labor and delivery department. “We are here, for one thing: safe staffing.”

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In response to the strike, Riverside Community Hospital said in a press release posted in its website: “During this unparalleled health crisis, this planned strike is a misguided tactic causing nurses to lose 10 days of wages and serves no benefit to our patients and this community.”

The hospital reassured patients that quality care has not been compromised, as they hired staff to replace the striking nurses and continue operating, and said the facility has enough protective equipment.

“While we currently have adequate supplies of PPE, we continue to provide safeguards that are consistent with CDC guidelines and help ensure the protection of our colleagues, not only today, but into the future as the pandemic evolves.”

The 10-day strike was scheduled to end on July 6.

Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Diane Craft; Editing by David Gregorio and Leslie Adler