Nurses at Contra Costa Regional seem to postpone strike

Registered nurses have canceled a planned three-day strike at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in Martinez after gaining significant results at the bargaining table.

A walkout would have included county health clinics and jails. The strikes were scheduled to begin March 21.

No final agreement has been reached. But both sides said Thursday that they think an end to the dispute is near after negotiating late into the night Wednesday.

The nearly 500 county nurses are represented by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee.

"The large obstacle that was a problem for CNA regarding our health care benefits has been removed," said Pete Castelli, chief negotiator for the union.

Castelli declined to specify, but a union news release said that the county has withdrawn proposals for cutting back nurse retirement and health care benefits.

Linda Ashcraft, the county's labor negotiations chief, said in a news release that nurses have agreed to participate in a county committee to discuss containing surging health care costs.

"Our patients are the winners here," she said of the strike cancellation. "This is the best possible outcome for ensuring the highest quality medical care is accessible to our patients without interruption."

The county-owned hospital in Martinez is a safety net for the region's poorest residents. The hospital and clinics are facing at least $9 million in budget cuts next fiscal year, and officials would have found it difficult to come up with the money to hire replacement nurses during a walkout.

"We're optimistic we can reach an agreement soon," Castelli said. "This is very positive. We appreciate the county hearing our concerns."

Nurses still plan a 10-day strike against 10 hospitals affiliated with Sutter Health beginning March 21.

Hospitals involved in that strike include Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland and Berkeley, Eden in Castro Valley, San Leandro Hospital, Sutter Delta in Antioch, Mills-Peninsula in Burlingame and San Mateo, and Sutter Solano in Vallejo.