Nurses have complained about poor access to protective N-95 masks since a 51-year-old Sacramento nurse died in July after contracting swine flu. The gear is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for use while treating swine flu patients.
The strike threat comes amid negotiations between the union and Catholic Healthcare West, the largest hospital system in California, which runs 28 of the 34 hospitals that would be affected by the walkout. Talks were ongoing Monday.
"We take this issue very seriously, as we do everything that can impact the health and safety of the patients we serve and the staff who cares for those patients," said Jill Dryer, spokeswoman for Catholic Healthcare West.
In the event of a strike, hospitals would delay elective procedures and are pledging to maintain appropriate staffing levels to keep up with demand in care.
Idelson said nurses would also be prepared to abandon the strike in the event of a major emergency.
"Almost all of the hospitals are 100 percent union shops, so we expect all nurses will be participating," said Idelson.