While the hospital workers’ union has signed contracts with some 30 medical centers in Northern California, agreement is yet to be reached with Sutter Health, including Berkeley’s Alta Bates Summit Medical Center.
Service Employees International Union Local 250, which represents workers such as dietitians and hospital aides, says its workers will hold a three-day strike, April 16-18, the seventh walkout since July. Alta Bates’ administrators say they are ready and patients won’t suffer.
The means of worker control over staffing levels is a key sticking point.
Hospital administrators have agreed at the negotiating table to form a committee with employees to determine staffing levels.
But Sal Rosselli, SEIU 250 president, says the committee is set up for only six months and should be permanent. “It’s about staffing,” Rosselli said. “It’s about giving the workers a voice.”
Alta Bates Summit spokesperson Carolyn Kemp argues that other hospitals have contracts in which SEIU agreed to a temporary staffing committee, and that the agreement with Alta Bates should be no different. Rosselli counters that the other hospitals have contracts in which the committee is, in fact, permanent. The Daily Planet was unable to look at the question independently before deadline.
Rosselli further argues that other workers such as respiratory therapists wish to join SEIU 250 and that Alta Bates’ management is using heavy-handed techniques to discourage them from doing so, such as meeting with the workers one on one to talk about the union.
Kemp contends that hospital management follows National Labor Relations Board guidelines which disallows that kind of one on one exchange and that Rosselli’s putting out the argument at this time is a “red herring.”
As for pay and benefits, Kemp points out that “they are offering these employees better than all their colleagues in the area.” Rosselli doesn’t disagree. “Our fight with Alta Bates is not over wages and benefits,” he said.
Kemp said the hospital will be staffed during the strike action. “We can’t walk out on our patients the way the union walks out,” she said.