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Home / News / Business / Burbank hospital strike ends, but pickets may return if talks fail

Burbank hospital strike ends, but pickets may return if talks fail

by City News Service
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Striking health care workers at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank are expected to start returning to work Saturday following a five-day strike to protest what the union says are “bad faith bargaining and other illegal tactics meant to silence workers” by Providence negotiators.

The strike began Monday and continued through Friday and while the union officials are hopeful their message was heard, they say they may return to the picket lines if future negotiations fail.

Maria Leal, a spokeswoman for SEUI-United Healthcare Workers, told City News Service that members of the union felt “even more empowered” now to obtain a fair contract that they deserve.

“They’re ready and as of right now, we’ve not heard from Providence for like new dates, but they’re really ready to go back to the bargaining table and have Providence negotiate in good faith,” Leal said.

SEIU-UHW represents the 700 non-nursing health care workers who staged the walkout.

The walk out began after what the hospital said was “our best efforts to engage in meaningful dialogue at the bargaining table,” along with the offer of “significant wage increases.”

“The union has offered unrealistic counter proposals in response and has chosen to strike instead of continue with good-faith negotiations,” the hospital said in a previous statement.

Striking employees included lab technicians, phlebotomists, EMTs, patient transporters, EVS workers and others, but not nurses. Providence said Sunday it contracted with replacement workers to fill in for striking union members.

Specific union concerns, according to an SEIU-UHW statement, include “longstanding issues of understaffing, worker turnover and patient care concerns,” in addition to the desire for better wages.

The union, which gave a 10-day notice last week of its intended strike, said it is taking the “last resort” action after months of bargaining.

Leal said contract talks broke off after the sides’ last bargaining session on Oct. 13. The union’s contract expired on Aug. 5, and the sides began talks in June.

Providence officials said Sunday that they have offered the union “what we believe is a very generous package with significant wage increases” — including a 24% wage increase over a three-year contract and market wage adjustments for many jobs.

According to Leal, the offer would include a 14.5% wage increase across the board during a three-year contract, and it also includes market equity adjustment for some jobs, which could range from an additional 1.4% to 9% wage increase.

“But they’re (Providence) only offering this to certain job classifications and not all of the job classifications that we represent,” Leal said. “About 35 job classifications are being left out.”

Addressing the union’s charge that patient care has suffered, the hospital statement said, “If there are incidents of unsafe conditions or poor quality care, the law requires that they be reported and investigated by the appropriate government agencies. That has not happened. In fact, just three months ago, the U.S. agency that oversees hospital quality ranked Providence Saint Joseph among the top 17.3% in the nation for overall quality.”

Providence acknowledged high turnover rates since the coronavirus pandemic, but said officials “have aggressively recruited and continue to do so, providing bonuses to caregivers who refer qualified candidates and to those hired in certain positions.”

Earlier this week, the hospital criticized the union for its pickets’ noise level, and added that the protesters were also creating safety hazards.

Leal said the hospital’s criticisms were a tactic to divert attention away from the reasons behind the workers’ strike.

“They should stop their unfair labor practices and resume negotiations immediately to stop this,” Leal said. “Our members, they’ve been committed to delivering the best care to the communities that they’re serving. They’re ready to continue doing that. But if they have to strike again, then they will strike.”

The Providence strike follows a three-day walkout over many of the same issues by some 75,000 Kaiser Permanente workers in several states, including California, from Oct. 4-6. The sides in that dispute announced a tentative four-year agreement on Oct. 13.

Workers at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood also walked off the job for five days from Oct. 9-13.

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