Humboldt County St. Joseph workers win 30 percent wage increase over three years

NewsApril 13, 2016

Members voted 98% to ratify contract that guarantees caregivers a voice in staffing, safety, and patient care standards, as well as no cuts in healthcare benefits and no premium increases

NUHW members at Eureka’s St. Joseph Hospital and Fortuna’s Redwood Memorial Hospital will receive an immediate 5 percent wage increase; new wage scale will further boost wages for most caregivers

EUREKA — After an 18-month struggle, NUHW-represented healthcare workers at St. Joseph Health System’s Redwood Memorial Hospital in Fortuna and St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka won a contract that guarantees them a voice in patient care issues and wage increases totaling nearly 30 percent over three years. 

In balloting that took place April 11 and 12, NUHW members voted 98 percent to ratify the agreement, which covers 425 service and technical workers, including nursing assistants, nutrition services workers, registration specialists, housekeepers, lab assistants, lift and monitor technicians, respiratory therapists, emergency technicians, pharmacy technicians, and imaging technologists.

The agreement calls for an immediate five percent across-the-board pay increase. Caregivers will also be placed on a progressive wage scale according to their job title and experience, meaning most workers will immediately receive an additional pay increase on top of the five percent increase. The newly established wage scales will increase by two percent in the second year of the three-year agreement and three percent in the final year.

By the end of the second year, no NUHW member at either hospital will earn less than $15 an hour. Currently, St. Joseph pays 235 Humboldt caregivers — 55 percent of the NUHW-represented workforce — less than $15 an hour, with some making as little as $10.90. Many workers at the two hospitals have been earning so little that they qualify for food stamps and Medi-Cal, meaning taxpayers have been forced to subsidize St. Joseph’s low wages. The impacts these low wages have on workers, patients, at the community were documented in a May 2015 NUHW report, “Uncompensated Care: How St. Joseph’s Low Wages Leave Caregivers Behind.”

“It’s a stunning victory,” said NUHW President Sal Rosselli, “and a clear admission on the part of St. Joseph that they have been grossly underpaying caregivers for years. And not only in Humboldt County — St. Joseph workers in Sonoma and Napa counties are earning wages far below market rate, wages that make it exceedingly difficult to support a family.”

NUHW members also won a voice in the hospital’s staffing and safety policies. One elected worker will serve on the hospital’s Safety Committee and the agreement also establishes a joint labor–management committee to address staffing and patient care problems with the right to take disputes to mediation. 

“This is a huge win for patients,” said Kellie Shaner, a monitor technician at St. Joseph Eureka and a member of the bargaining committee that started negotiating with St. Joseph in November 2014. “We’ve been sounding the alarm about short staffing for years. Finally we’ll have a seat at the table to advocate for safe staffing levels and improved patient care.”

“We fought long and hard for this victory,” said Daniel Aukerman, a materials management worker at St. Joseph Eureka and a bargaining team member. “We took a principled stand and held St. Joseph accountable to the community, who have been getting shortchanged on the care they receive while also having to subsidize the poverty wages St. Joseph has been paying. Some full-time workers have had less than a $1 increase after five years on the job and still make just $11 an hour. Many of us are working extra shifts and double shifts because of St. Joseph’s understaffing.”

The agreement also guarantees no reduction in healthcare benefits or increases in premiums for the life of the contract after July 1, a guarantee not enjoyed by the hospitals’ non-union workers. Workers also staved off St. Joseph’s threatened cuts to compensation for workers who take on extra shifts and made other important gains, including seniority and worker protections over discipline, scheduling, the rights of union members and stewards, and recognition of seniority. 

NUHW is a member-driven, democratic union that represents 11,000 healthcare workers throughout California, including 1,200 St. Joseph Health System employees in Humboldt and Sonoma counties.