SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) -- More than 700 caregivers began a five-day strike Monday at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, demanding more benefits and personal protective equipment.
The workers, represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, are asking for more benefits and for the hospital management, part of the Providence St. Joseph Health hospital chain, to rethink the proposed contract that gives them less sick days during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tyler Hedden, chief executive of Providence St. Joseph Health-Sonoma County, said in a news release that hospital management is deeply disappointed in the NUHW to strike during the pandemic at a time when Sonoma County cases are increasing.
Tammie Campbell, a radiologic technologist who has worked at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital for 12 years, says the strike had been put off for five months, but is now the health care workers' last option.
"I've heard a lot of people ask 'Well, how can you strike during COVID?' And, the fact is, that we voted to strike in February and we've held off for five months. [The management] have refused to budge. Right now we're looking at the 2 percent annual rise, back pay for a year out of contract, doubling our health insurance pay, and people with more than a few years of experience not being able to have as much sick time," said Campbell.
Campbell would lose three sick days per year under the proposed contract, and worries that will be harmful to patients.
"I would lose three sick days a year. We've learned with COVID-19 that people are being forced to work when they're sick and not having access to quality affordable health care. It's not only bad for the person, it's bad for society. And, in our case, it's bad for our patients," Campbell said.
Campbell said she decided to strike because she feels that the proposed contract is dangerous during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I am striking because of the changes to our contract that Providence is insisting on, and the potential danger to those changes has become even more clear during the pandemic," Campbell said. "They are proposing 25 percent premium increases which would double the cost of our premiums by the end of the contract. That's thousands of dollars a year for people with families," said Campbell.
According to Campbell, the hospital is using the pandemic to justify their budget cuts.
"They're using COVID as the reason [for the cuts], saying that it's been hard on them financially, and I'm sure it has. I know it's been hard on me personally financially, but they paid me and my colleagues less because our patient loads have been lower," Campbell said.
According to Campbell, the hospital is currently faced with understaffing and not enough protective equipment.
"There is chronic understaffing throughout the hospital. We also do not have enough personal protective equipment. Now, we're being asked to wear the same mask the whole day. We're also being asked to wear the same N95
masks for a week unless something happens to it. Five months ago you threw that stuff out after single use," Campbell said.
Hedden said in the news release that the hospital never has denied a caregiver access to protective equipment.
According to Campbell, Providence is a very wealthy hospital chain in comparison to others, and has the means to make the changes being asked by those striking.
"Our hospital alone made about $200 million in operating profits in 2017. Providence is the third-largest non-profit hospital chain in the country. They have gotten hundreds of millions of dollars in federal relief funds during COVID," she said.
According to Campbell, she and her colleagues feel that those working in management at the hospital are not being affected as much financially as the workers dealing directly with COVID-19 patients.
"The management has not had to sacrifice as much as we have, and they have the bonus of not being in the room with people who have COVID. So, they can afford it. I've taken the financial hit, and I'm asking no less of
them," Campbell said.
According to the hospital's news release, hospital management has been meeting with the union for the past year, and says that the proposal offered gives significant wage increases and generous benefits. Specifically, they claim to give a 12 percent increase over four years to staff members.
Campbell has faith that the hospital will make the changes she sees as vital during this period.
"After a year of telling them, this is all we have left. I pray that the hospital meets our demands. I'm a woman of faith and I pray that they will. I know that we have tried every single other way to communicate with them," she said.
According to the hospital's news release, all emergency services at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital are still operational, but outpatient imaging services will be closed.
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