Union activists know the drill:
“Health care! We care!” they chant as they circle the main entrance to Alta Bates Summit Medical Center.
This is the seventh time since July that workers from the Service Employees International Union Local 250 have gone out on strike actions of short duration. They’ve been working without a contract for one year. About 2,300 Bay Area heath care workers walked out Monday.
“Honk if you support the hospital workers,” come calls from another group stationed on Ashby Avenue, in front of the hospital, one block east of Telegraph Avenue. Drivers respond with honks and waves.
Some thirty hospitals – Catholic Healthcare West and Kaiser Permanente hospitals among them – have settled with the union. But workers, such as Licensed Vocational Nurses, food service staff, psychiatric technicians and others at Sutter Hospitals – which includes Alta Bates Summit Medical Center and its Herrick Hospital campus – have not signed contracts.
Questions of salary and benefits have been negotiated to the satisfaction of both sides. But staffing continues to be at issue. The unions say workers want a voice. And the hospital says it is not denying worker input.
Alta Bates spokesperson Carolyn Kemp says the hospital welcomes employees’ participation in employee-management committees.
When there is disagreement, an arbitrator, who is a health-care specialist, would make a final determination on staffing.
Kemp said the hospital has agreed that there would be an arbitrator for six months, but health care workers are asking for
arbitration to be a permanent part of
Fola Afariogun, a union spokesperson and Care Associate 1 at Alta Bates, said, for example, staffing should be three patients per nurse or LVN. He said that inside the hospital Monday, staffing was at that ratio.
Kemp argued that if that was the fact – and she didn’t know if it was – it was because the hospital didn’t know how many workers would be out on strike and so may have overstaffed.
Afariogun said the lower staff/patient ratio should be permanent. “It’s not going to hurt anybody. It’s going to help patients.”
Kemp said the hospital does not disagree with the concept of employee input into staffing ratios. It “will always give the employees a voice in staffing,” she said.
But questions on the mechanism for the employees to be heard, shouldn’t be debated in the streets. “The life-span (of the arbitrator) should be decided at the negotiating table,” Kemp said.
Questions that are still to be worked out between union and the hospital “should be sorted out and agreed to at the (bargaining) table.”
In addition, the two sides debated strike tactics, with the unions decrying the uniformed security officers who were videotaping strikers at a number of locations around the hospital and the hospital saying it has to do what is necessary to protect employees and patients. Kemp, who was unable to provide the name of the company that provided security, said cameras were important to document inappropriate actions by strikers. “We wished we could have had documentation” during previous strike actions, she said.