900 caregivers strike University of Southern California’s Keck Hospital

February 9th, 2016

NUHW-represented healthcare workers protest short staffing that undermines quality of patient care and low wages and poor benefits that force workers to rely on public assistance

Keck nurses represented by California Nurses Association to hold informational picket in support

LOS ANGELES — More than 900 healthcare workers at the University of Southern California’s Keck Hospital will strike for one day, Wednesday, February 10. 

The caregivers, represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), will be supported by 1,200 nurses represented by the California Nurses Association (CNA), who will hold an informational picket, and by Teamsters Joint Council 42, which will honor the picket line.

The picket line will be in place from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in front of Keck Hospital at 1500 San Pablo Street, Los Angeles.

The Keck caregivers will hold a rally at noon. Speakers will include Keck healthcare workers, representatives from USC student organizations and faculty, other USC workers represented by CNA and UNITE HERE, a representative from Los Angeles City Councilmember José Huizar’s office, and NUHW President Sal Rosselli. The rally will also include an interfaith blessing ceremony performed by local clergy.

Staffing cuts that jeopardize patients

Keck caregivers are protesting severe cost-cutting and staff-reduction measures that undermine the quality of Keck–USC’s patient care. Keck–USC has implemented cuts that leave overworked and underpaid staff rushing through jobs that require meticulous attention to detail.

“My job is vital to keeping patients safe,” said Susie Ruvalcaba, a patient care technician with 19 years on the job, “but the demands placed on me make it extremely hard for me to do it well. When they add to my workload and force me to rush from one task to another, the patients suffer for it. Keck–USC can’t claim it wants to be ‘world-class’ while it forces us to race through our work. And for what, to save a couple of dollars here and there?”

Keck Hospital is part of Keck Medicine of USC, which generates revenues of $1.2 billion a year. In 2014, USC, Los Angeles’ largest private-sector employer, reported revenues of $4.6 billion, profits of $657 million, and an endowment of $4.6 billion. Keck Medicine’s CEO Thomas Jackiewicz was paid $1.7 million in 2014, a 30 percent increase from the prior year. In 2015, Keck–USC hired Huron Group, a consulting firm tasked with cutting costs and boosting the hospital’s bottom line.

Poverty wages and unaffordable health insurance

Caregivers are also protesting Keck–USC’s poverty wages and inadequate benefits. Keck–USC pays many of its healthcare workers wages so low that they qualify for food stamps and other forms of public assistance, and the unaffordable costs of Keck–USC’s health insurance plan for dietary workers forces many to rely on Medi-Cal. 

Among the 900 caregivers at Keck–USC Hospital, one of every six earns less than $15, and some earn as little as $10.15 an hour — just 15 cents above minimum wage. 

“It’s unconscionable that one of the richest universities in the state forces some of its most dedicated employees to rely on public assistance,” said NUHW President Sal Rosselli. “It’s disrespectful to the workers and it’s unfair to taxpayers.”

“Administrators are giving themselves 30 percent raises and paying consultants thousands of dollars a day to tell them how to cut corners on patient care, while caregivers are getting nickel-and-dimed,” said Alex Corea, a respiratory therapist and member of the bargaining team with 15 years experience at Keck.  

“We have people who are forced to choose, ‘Should I pay my child’s health insurance, or buy groceries to feed her,’” says Judy Oliva, a grill cook at Keck. “That’s a decision no parent should have to make, especially one working full-time for a major university.”

Inadequate and discriminatory retirement and tuition benefits

Keck–USC refuses to provide workers with the retirement plan it provides to the rest of its “Trojan Family.” USC does not offer Keck workers the five percent retirement-plan contribution it gives to all its other workers. Keck–USC’s offer of a matching contribution instead is disingenuous — Keck’s own data show that hundreds of workers do not receive matching funds because they cannot afford to make their own contribution to their 401(k). That leaves many full-time caregivers with no retirement savings at all. 

Keck–USC also denies these workers, many of whom are people of color, the tuition assistance benefit it offers to the rest of its workers, which provides financial assistance to the children of USC workers who are admitted to the university. 

“We are simply refusing to be treated as second-class citizens in the workplace while USC brags to the world about the ‘Trojan Family,’ ” said respiratory therapist Alex Corea. 

The National Union of Healthcare Workers is a democratic, worker-led union that represents 11,000 healthcare workers in California, including 900 Keck–USC cooks, food-service workers, nursing personnel, surgical assistants, respiratory therapists, nuclear medicine techs, environmental service aides, and stationary engineers.