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Central Coast students, nurses strike for climate and job terms

Friday was a day of demonstrations on the Central Coast, with students walking out of class to join young people around the world in an international climate strike, and local nurses picketing for better working terms in San Luis Obispo and Templeton.

All day Friday, dozens of nurses lined Santa Rosa Street near Sierra Vista Medical Center. Many passing drivers honked in support of the nurses.

“We're out here today because we need to get a good contract that's going to recruit and retain nurses,” said Sherri Stoddard, who has worked as a registered nurse for the past 32 years in San Luis Obispo. She retired this summer, she said, but remains on the California Nurses Association board of directors. Her colleagues are in contract negotiations with Tenet Healthcare Corporation, which operates Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center and Twin Cities Community Hospital.

“We need as many nurses as we actually need to do the optimal patient care,” Stoddard said. “We need nurses to be able to get breaks. They need to not have so much mandatory call that they can't work safely. That's a contract that we need; this is about patient care.”

Stoddard said it was coincidental their walkout fell on the same day of the climate strike; by law the nurses have to give ten-days' notice of a strike.

“We have been negotiating in good faith with the union to reach a new contract,” said Tenet spokesperson Ara Najarian in an email. “We are disappointed that the union is taking this strike action, which in our view is not constructive or necessary. We have made progress toward a new contract and will continue to negotiate in good faith in hopes of resolution.”

“We're hoping to go back to the table,” Stoddard said. “We’re hoping that this kind of energy of nurses being motivated to really make their contract happen, will also motivate the employer to come back with something that will help bring nurses in, and keep nurses at the bedside.”

Meanwhile, in communities across the Central Coast, students staged local marches to take part in the global climate strike. Here are Ryan Cooper, Abigail Craig, Tommy Gray, Sierra Wennberg-Smith and Gavin Sakamoto talking about why they turned out for a demonstration at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo Friday morning:

“I mostly just wanted to be on the right side of history. I don't want to have to look at my children or my grandchildren someday and say I had the perfect opportunity to speak my mind and try and at least do something about this issue. I don't want to look at them and say I did nothing.”

“I am here because I think collective activism can really show people how important things are, when it's communal and you see how many people care...and then that can cultivate change.”

“I think it's a very important issue that will definitely affect every future generation to come. And I think it's kind of coming down to the wire, and it's [up to] us to try and get politicians and lawmakers into action to do something before it's too late.”

“For me it's not a big decision to give up class time or get an absence just so I can advocate for my future and future generations so that they can live happily and healthily in the beautiful planet that we're blessed to live on.”

“The more people that show up and the more people that are making it a conversation, I think the faster things will change.”

Area environmental and social justice groups are planning another strike on Friday, Sept. 27 at 5 p.m. at the downtown San Luis Obispo courthouse.

According to organizer Carmen Bouquin, the marchers will be “calling on the [county] board of supervisors to take the Sunrise Movement’s ‘No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge,’ and to vote in favor of community choice energy. In addition, the strikers are calling for Gavin Newsom to shift California off fossil fuel production to clean and renewable energy.”