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California Healthcare Workers Strike Averted

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A strike by healthcare workers at five Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) Healthcare facilities in California, was averted after bargaining efforts led to a new contract on May 18. 

The intention to strike was announced by union members of the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) chapter at facilities owned by HCA Healthcare, a healthcare provider company. Healthcare workers and union members at HCA facilities voted to authorize a strike to protest unfair labor practices, according to a May 12 press release from SEIU-UHW. Workers accused management of making threats and intimidating employees who raised concerns about staffing and wages. Workers additionally claimed that management restricted their ability to meet and communicate in public areas, ejected union staff from hospitals and prohibited caregivers from wearing union logos.

The decision to strike was announced following a vote margin of nearly 97% in favor of the strike, according to the press release. The union announced that bargaining sessions with HCA representatives would last from May 15 to May 17, and planned for the strike to take place from May 22 to May 27. The vote impacted approximately 3,000 healthcare workers, “including emergency room technicians, nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, lab techs, dieticians, EVS, pharmacy techs, cooks, food service workers, transporters and more. Facilities impacted include HCA Good Samaritan Hospital, HCA Regional Medical Center in San Jose, HCA Los Robles Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, HCA West Hills Hospital and HCA Riverside Community Hospital,” according to Cision PR newswire

Xochitl Gonzalez, a patient care technician from Los Robles Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, explained their intentions to strike against unfair labor practices in the May 12 press release.

“We are prepared to strike because HCA cannot keep bargaining in bad faith and denying what we experience every day at our hospitals,” Gonzalez stated. “I have never seen working conditions or patient care suffer more. But executives counting shares don’t see that—they never have to look our patients in the face like we do.”

A petition from SEIU-UHW emphasized current labor conditions and called for solidarity with strikers. 

“For too long, healthcare workers have struggled to provide quality care in short-staffed HCA hospitals while top executives get rich and investors collect millions,” the petition stated. “I demand that you end this crisis in care now and invest in frontline healthcare workers.”

Spokesman for the Riverside Community Hospital David Maxfield previously denounced the planned strike and claimed it was unnecessary for the safety of the patients, according to a statement from the OC Register.

“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,” Maxfield said. “A strike benefits no one and may prevent our communities from having access to timely medical care.”

A 2022 SEIU-UHW report titled “Crisis in Care” reported that 83% of healthcare workers felt that their department has understaffing issues. 65% responded that they knew healthcare was being denied due to staffing shortages and 54% voiced concerns over staffing issues to management. 

Following successful bargaining sessions, the strike was averted at the announcement of a new contract settlement agreed upon by parties from SEIU-UHW and HCA Healthcare. The contract notably features a 15% raise over the course of three years, $21/hr minimum wage, a $10 increase for standby pay and increased ratification bonus for full and part-time positions. Voting to ratify the contract will take place at participating hospitals from May 24 to May 27.

Frank Granda is a City News Intern for the spring 2023 quarter. He can be reached at grandaf@uci.edu.