600 Fountain Valley Regional Medical Center caregivers join NUHW

May 26th, 2016

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, CALIF. — Nearly six hundred healthcare workers at Fountain Valley Regional Medical Center, the largest for-profit hospital in Orange County, voted 77% to join the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) in a union election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board on May 24 and May 25. 

With this week’s election, more than 700 healthcare workers have joined NUHW in May, bringing the union’s total membership to more than 11,000. One hundred and fifty workers at Kindred San Francisco Bay Area Hospital in San Leandro joined earlier in the month. 

Fountain Valley caregivers organized to advocate for increased staffing levels and improved patient care at the Tenet-owned hospital. The employees include respiratory therapists, radiology technicians, pharmacy technicians, phlebotomists, monitor technicians, nursing assistants, surgical technicians, anesthesiology technicians, unit secretaries, maintenance workers, and other classifications.

“Staffing cuts and other profit-driven decisions have undermined our ability to provide the care our patients need,” said Respiratory Therapist Elizabeth McCarthy. “I love my job. It gives me a chance to give a little of myself to each and every patient. But it is sad that we are given more patients than we can fully care for. As members of NUHW, we will have the power to make things better for our patients and each other.”

“Because we’re short staffed, I take on extra responsibilities, including that of a nursing assistant,” said Unit Secretary/Monitor Tech Ruth Sevilla. “We have old equipment and are continuously overworked. We formed a union so we can fight for the equipment, support, and staff we need to give our patients the care they deserve, and to help boost morale at our hospital.”

Other issues of concern include wages, which have not kept pace with the cost of living; inequities in pay as new hires are frequently paid more than longtime Fountain Valley caregivers; and exploitation of per diem workers, many of whom work full-time schedules but receive no benefits and have seen no wage increases for years. 

“Our wages have not kept pace with the cost of living,” said Engineer Dave Seboldt. “And many of us who have been here for years and get great performance evaluations not only train new employees, including our own supervisors, but make much less than those who just got hired. Workers should get paid for their years of service.”

“I’m a single father of two small children,” said per diem Respiratory Therapist Michael Leal. “I take pride in my work and continue to work full-time hours with no benefits for my children or myself in hopes that one day I’ll get a regular position. I’ve never complained about my shifts being canceled or my schedule changed. But too often we’re treated like second-class citizens and that’s why we voted to unionize.” 

Fountain Valley Regional Hospital, Tenet’s second-largest California facility, made $37.4 million in profits in 2015 and a total of $130.2 million since 2010, according to the hospital’s filings with the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD). According to an August 2015 Bloomberg story, Tenet is the seventh-worst company in the nation in terms of the pay gap between the company’s CEO and its workers. In 2014, Tenet’s CEO Trevor Fetter earned $17.95 million — 242 times more than the average Tenet employee. 

Tenet has been investigated by the federal government because of whistleblower allegations that it committed fraud through a kickback scheme. The company is currently negotiating a settlement with government officials for which the company has set aside as much as $400 million.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers is a member-driven movement for democracy, quality patient care, and a stronger voice in the workplace. NUHW represents more 11,000 caregivers at hospitals and nursing homes throughout California. NUHW.org