BARSTOW Registered nurses, a California Nurses Association (CNA) representative and local supporters picketed outside Barstow Community Hospital in two increments Tuesday, citing an unwillingness by Community Health Systems (CHS), which operates the hospital, to return to the bargaining table.

"The reason we are doing this action is because CHS refuses to bargain with us," BCH RN Mike Ziemer said. "Nurses have no say in nursing decisions."

Ziemer, 63, has been with the hospital for more than 37 years and currently works in the Intensive Care Unit. The last time CHS and CNA engaged in negotiations was late December, he said.

If and when the two sides finally return to talks, resolution will hinge on whether or not the union feels their nurses' voices are heard the crux of the issue.

The National Nurses Union accused CHS-affiliated hospitals of retaliating against nurse activists, restricting RN's free speech rights and unilaterally changing work rules and policies in a news release sent to media outlets last week.

In a prepared statement last Friday, BCH spokesman John Rader countered the union's claims.

"We appreciate the dedication of our nurses and all of our caregivers," part of the statement read. "Unfortunately, the California Nurses Association is engaged in an aggressive campaign of rhetoric and misinformation."

RNs who participated during the morning and afternoon protests Tuesday did so either before or after their shift or on an off-day.

Approximately 15 to 20 staff were on hand Tuesday morning, a CNA official estimated, and a handful were present as of 5:15 p.m.

RNs also staged a protest Tuesday outside Fallbrook Hospital in Fallbrook.

Shea Johnson may be reached at (760) 256-4126 or at SJohnson@DesertDispatch.com.