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SoCal Hospital Workers Brace For Walkouts Over Labor Talks

RIVERSIDE (CBS) — Caregivers, custodians, radiologists and other personnel at Riverside Community Hospital plan to stage a 24-hour walkout later this week in response to a stalemate in negotiations over a new contract, union officials announced Monday.

Hundreds of workers represented by the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West are expected to protest outside RCH between 6 a.m. Friday and 6 a.m. Saturday.

Workers are at odds with the Hospital Corporation of America, which owns RCH, over what their union alleges are unfair labor practices.

"Instead of working with us so we can take care of our patients the way we need to and negotiating a contract that improves staffing and care, HCA is going after our co-workers by threatening...them and violating their rights," said Lauren Stewart-Roberts, a certified nursing assistant at Riverside Community Hospital.

"We need HCA to drop these illegal tactics and negotiate with us in good faith for real improvements," she said.

Riverside Community Hospital spokeswoman Cherie Russell declined to comment on the intimidation allegations, but says RCH would "welcome" union representatives back to the bargaining table.

Russell said the union abruptly broke off talks earlier this month, even as hospital administrators offered wage increases as part of a proposed three-year collective bargaining agreement.

"We're perfectly willing to sit down at the table to discuss our mutual interests," she said. "We've offered many different economic packages to many different workers."

She said one proposal included pay increases of 1.75 percent to 2 percent, with no increases in workers' health insurance costs, which are 100 percent paid under the hospital's HMO plan.

"With the unemployment levels what they are, we can't understand why the union won't discuss what we've given them and are insisting on going out on strike," Russell said.

She said the HCA corporate hierarchy is not involved in negotiations.

According to union representatives, caregivers proposed a "staffing matrix" used at other medical facilities to ensure nursing assistants are not overloaded with too many patients at once, but hospital administrators refused to consider the idea.

The union also alleges HCA management has instituted unilateral changes to hospital policies in retaliation for calls for improved working conditions.

According to union spokeswoman Jennifer Kelly, more than 90 percent of the 757 SEIU-UHW members at Riverside Community Hospital voted for a temporary work stoppage.

Registered nurses at RCH, who have been operating without a contract since March and remain at an impasse with the hospital over a new labor agreement, have been approached about participating in the walkout, Kelly said.

Additional stoppages are planned Friday at several other HCA-owned hospitals in California — West Hills Medical Center and Hospital in West Hills; Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks; and Good
Samaritan Hospital and Regional Medical Center in San Jose.

(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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