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Healthcare workers at 5 California hospitals vote to authorize strike beginning May 22

Thousands of healthcare workers at five HCA facilities in California have voted to authorize an unfair labor practice strike, claiming management is threatening and intimidating employees who complain of short-staffing and low wages.

With 97% voting in favor, an estimated 3,000 emergency room technicians, nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, lab techs, dieticians, pharmacy techs and cooks are set to launch a five-day strike beginning May 22 at the following locations:

HCA Los Robles Medical Center in Thousand Oaks
HCA West Hills Hospital
HCA Riverside Community Hospital
HCA Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose
HCA Regional Medical Center in San Jose

Workers allege management has violated labor law by stopping them from meeting and talking in hospital public areas, throwing union staff out of hospitals and telling caregivers they can’t wear union logos. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

The workers, whose labor contract expired March 31, are represented by SEIU-UHW. Their next bargaining sessions are scheduled for Monday, May 15 through Wednesday, May 17 with additional dates to be determined after the strike, union officials said.

In a statement issued Friday, Riverside Community Hospital spokesman David Maxfield called the pending walkout “reckless and unnecessary, and not in the interest of patients.”

“This decision by SEIU-UHW leadership is startling and entirely at odds with the progress we have made at the bargaining table, where we reached agreement on many contract issues,” he said. “A strike benefits no one and may prevent our communities from having access to timely medical care.”

Workers allege management has violated labor law by stopping them from meeting and talking in hospital public areas, throwing union staff out of hospitals and telling caregivers they can’t wear union logos.

“We are prepared to strike because HCA cannot keep bargaining in bad faith and denying what we experience every day at our hospitals,” said Xochitl Gonzalez, a patient care technician at Los Robles Medical Center in Thousand Oaks. “I have never seen working conditions or patient care suffer more.”

A recent survey by SEIU-UHW of healthcare workers at HCA facilities found staffing is typically 30% below the national average, according to an analysis of Medicare cost-report data.

The report said the trend of low staffing reflects an intentional corporate strategy that predates the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Short staffing saves HCA billions each year,” the report said. “These billions are costs borne by patients, as lower staffing levels are associated with inferior patient care.”

The SEIU-UHW workers also are urging passage of Senate Bill 525, which would boost staffing for California healthcare workers and raise their minimum wage to $25 an hour.

Introduced by Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Echo Park, it would replace California’s current base pay of $15.50 for employees in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, dialysis clinics, behavioral health centers and scores of other facilities.

“Raising the minimum wage for healthcare workers will help us retain staff who were considering leaving due to the skyrocketing cost of living and ongoing emotional toll of the pandemic,” the union said. “If we wait for our employers alone to take action to solve the staffing crisis, nothing will change.”

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