Scores of unionized registered nurses staged an informational picket in front of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland this week to demand that their employers address a nationwide staffing crisis.

Those at the Tuesday demonstration carried signs reading “Staff UP! For Safe Care, End Crisis Care Now” and “UCSF Children’s Hospital Oakland Keep Care in Oakland.” They were among thousands of registered nurses with National Nurses United (NNU) picketing at 18 hospitals across seven states.

As a pediatric nurse at Children’s Hospital, Aina Gagui says working as a registered nurse has worsened since the pandemic. With increased daily pressure and limited staff at her department, Gagui says work is no longer safe for her mental and physical health.

“It’s just very stressful. … And it’s all because of the hospital industry. After a hard shift, you go home, and you cry. It’s tough on us mentally and emotionally.”

Aina Gagui, registered nurse

“It’s just very stressful. Nurses are burning out, including myself. Nurses are leaving the bedside,” said Gagui, who led the Oakland picket line. “And it’s all because of the hospital industry. After a hard shift, you go home, and you cry. It’s tough on us mentally and emotionally.”

NNU is the country’s largest union and professional association of registered nurses, with nearly 225,000 members. In a news release, the union called out the hospital industry for creating an artificial shortage of nurses since the pandemic by pushing for crisis standards that have worsened occupational health and safety protections for nurses.

Since 2022, more than 1 million registered nurses nationwide are unemployed. A national report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on registered nurse employment released last year shows out of 4,604,199 actively licensed RNs, only 3,072,700 RNs are employed.

Aina Gagui, RN, BSN, a pediatric nurse at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, addresses colleagues on the picket line Tuesday. Among their grievances, the nurses worry that the use of artificial intelligence will increase reliance on virtual care and lead to more staffing shortages. (Charles Ayitey/Bay City News)

Amid ongoing advancements in health care technology, the NNU is apprehensive about the industry’s increasing focus on replacing hands-on nursing care with technology and artificial intelligence. In a news release issued moments before the nationwide informational picket, Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, a president of NNU, said it could compromise patient care quality.

“As nurses who provide hands-on care, we are deeply concerned about the industry’s push towards technology and AI, which executives hope will replace nurses with algorithms or ‘virtual’ care,” Triunfo-Cortez said. “We know these schemes are designed to enhance profits for the few but mean a deterioration in care for the many. We know there are enough nurses in the U.S. to staff our hospitals appropriately.”

UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital officials were not immediately available for comment on Tuesday’s picketing by the nurses.

Charles is a Knight Foundation intern at Bay City News and a Master of Journalist candidate at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He freelanced for Oakland Side and Oakland North on race, equity, and health outcomes in the Bay Area. Before his graduate studies, Charles worked as a Business reporter in Ghana, West Africa, covering financial markets and rising startups. At Bay City News, he is interested in reporting on public health and the intersections of race and equity in the Bay Area.