Big legal victory at Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital

NewsMarch 24, 2024

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Workers at Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital in Hollister will seek to reverse all the takeaways they’ve endured after a U.S. Bankruptcy Court sided with NUHW in determining that the hospital was not eligible for bankruptcy protection.

The taxpayer-supported San Benito Healthcare District had used its bankruptcy filing last May to impose draconian cuts to employee benefits. The district stopped contributing to worker pensions, cut vacation accruals, and imposed sharp increases to healthcare premiums.

There typically isn’t much workers can do when their employer seeks bankruptcy protection, but NUHW, along with the California Nurses Association, objected to the hospital’s bankruptcy petition, claiming that it wasn’t insolvent and could still pay its debts.

A four-day trial ensued last December, and on March 21, Judge Stephen Johnson dismissed the district’s assertion of bankruptcy, stating that it had “failed to show it is insolvent.”

“This is a big victory for Hazel Hawkins workers and for everyone in the community they serve,” NUHW President Sophia Mendoza said. “Restoring benefits will help the hospital increase staff and provide better care.”

The ruling will prevent the district from continuing to impose the takeaways to employee benefits. Meanwhile, NUHW will pursue legal avenues to make the district repay what the district illegally took from members.

“As healthcare workers, we do everything we can for our patients and our community,” said Ronda Trujillo, an ultrasonographer at Hazel Hawkins. “The district should be ashamed for imposing unnecessary hardships on us. We hope this stops other employers from thinking they can use bankruptcy protections to harm workers, and we hope it shows unorganized hospital workers the power of a union.”

During the trial, NUHW leaders testified that the district’s insolvency claims were based on unreliable and speculative financial information and that NUHW had partnered with the district to obtain $13 million in no interest loans to shore up the hospital’s finances.