Homecare workers picket in Santa Cruz

NewsApril 25, 2024

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NUHW-represented rehabilitation specialists who drive throughout Santa Cruz County treating patients in their homes picketed this month outside a Sutter Health office to demand a fair contract that pays them market-rate wages and doesn’t make it harder for them and their loved ones to access medical care.

The approximately two dozen healthcare workers, who include speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and medical social workers, are employed by Sutter’s Visiting Nurse Association of Santa Cruz.

They’ve been without a contract since last July and unable to reach an agreement in part because despite persistent understaffing, Sutter is insisting on making them pay more for their health insurance and reserving the right to unilaterally make additional cuts to their health benefits.

“We’re dedicated to meeting the needs of vulnerable Santa Cruz County residents who can’t make it to their local medical office,” said Ashley Christiansen, a physical therapist. “We expect Sutter to honor our commitment by continuing to provide affordable health coverage and paying fair wages so we can be fully staffed to best serve our patients.”

During the two-hour early morning picket, the workers marched, chanted, and voted to authorize a strike, if Sutter doesn’t offer fair terms.

Sutter has paid its homecare workers significantly less than comparable hospital workers, which has resulted in frequent turnover and understaffing. Occupational therapists are particularly understaffed, resulting in waiting lists for care. In addition to preserving their health benefits, the workers are seeking competitive wages with equal starting salaries for each classification.