Caregivers protest Salinas Valley Memorial’s demand for cuts despite huge profits

April 18th, 2016

More than 150 NUHW members at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital (SVMH), along with CNA RNs and their families, held a vigil on February 25 to demand a fair contract after NUHW members voted by 97 percent to reject the hospital’s latest proposal and authorize the bargaining committee to call a strike if and when necessary.

The caregivers were protesting inadequate staffing levels and policies that undermine the quality of patient care; hospital officials’ insistence on subcontracting jobs currently held by workers who live in the community; the denial of cost-of-living wage increases for caregivers; and increases in the cost of healthcare coverage. District 30 Assemblymember Luis Alejo and District 1 Supervisor Fernando Armenta lent their support at the demonstration and subsequent march to the hospital’s boardroom.

“I’d like for the administration to see [the rally] as a signal,” George Ross, an LVN and 30-year veteran at SVMH, told the Salinas Californian. “We want them to come back to the table.”

The NUHW bargaining team met with SVMH officials April 12 with the help of state mediator, but still the administration refused to bargain in good faith.

SVMH has a history of assigning nursing assistants patient-care responsibilities for which they have not been trained and has rejected workers’ requests to correct this practice. SVMH has also failed to respond to the workers’ proposals for staffing ratios. As Ross explained to the Californian, RNs have established ratios, but a nurse’s aide can be assigned, say, eight patients on a Monday and fifteen to twenty on a Tuesday. There are no limits.

“This puts the aide, the patient and hospital at risk with regard to safety and quality of care,” Ross said.

SVMH officials have refused to offer workers an adequate cost-of-living living increase, in stark contrast with the 40 percent wage increase CEO Pete Delgado received after just one year on the job. SVMH officials also have proposed changes to workers’ healthcare coverage that include significant increases for premiums and co-pays — cost hikes that would quickly nullify the wage increase.

“We understand that our benefits have to change,” said Ross, “But they’re proposing an increase (in some cases) from a $50 deductible (current contract) to a $1,500 deductible.”

Workers have been engaged in contract negotiations with the community-owned hospital since July 2015.

SVMH has enjoyed healthy profits for the past few years — $28.9 million in 2014 and $41.2 million in the first eleven months of 2015. Its profit margin of 8.82 percent for the first three quarters of 2015 nearly doubled the statewide average of 4.66 percent.

“Many of us feel a disconnect between the administration and employees. There are very few areas of the hospital not affected by our work—labs, x-rays, dietary, housekeepers, transporters, etc.,” said Ross.