Member profile: Billie Jean Barton

ProfilesSeptember 25, 2023

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On the heels of NUHW members at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center winning a contract that will boost wages an average of 40 percent over four years, their union siblings at five Providence hospitals in Northern California are getting ready to replicate this success when they bargain their next collective agreement. 

To do so, they’re electing bigger, more representative bargaining committees that are determined to bargain a single contract that covers all five facilities, instead of the former practice of bargaining separate contracts. 

“Bargaining for a single contract for Northern California hospitals is going to benefit us by showing Providence leaders that we are one big family of caregivers,” said Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital member Billie Jean Barton, who helped negotiate the previous contract there. “When we stand up and show up and support each other, we will win the best contract for all of us.”

Barton said she and her colleagues were inspired by Tarzana workers turning the hospital from one of the chain’s lowest-paying in Southern California, to one of its highest paying hospitals. 

“This makes me feel optimistic,” she said. “I feel we work hard enough to ask for what we need, which is better pay, insurance and staffing — a contract that is beneficial for all of us.”

For now, she’s encouraging others to get ready for a fight, just like in 2020 when NUHW members at Santa Rosa Memorial held the first major strike of the pandemic and won the highest wage increases of any Providence hospital in Northern California.  

 “I’m speaking with everyone, trying to get everybody united,” Barton said. “The last bargaining was difficult, but we stood strong and kept moving and putting out the hard request without backing down.” 

 The five-day strike in 2020 resulted in a contract that boosted wages an average of 13 percent, with numerous other improvements including an additional step on the wage scale. 

Barton, a surgery scheduler, said her colleagues have an even stronger sense of purpose this time around. “I think this time a lot more people understand what we need to go to bat for,” she said

 At the top of the priority list are pay and better insurance options that help them retain and attract staff amid a severe understaffing. Barton noted that many coworkers have left in the past few years because non-Providence hospitals are paying $5 to $10 more per hour, impacting care that Providence patients receive. 

“Staffing has really decreased. There are a lot of open positions,” she said. “It’s a struggle to get all seven operating rooms to be covered at the end of day … or have enough staff to cover call shifts.” 

 Barton will have many allies as bargaining approaches, but none more important to her than her son, Bryan Colvig, who works in the EVS Department at Santa Rosa Memorial.

 “I tell him that we’re here for each other and back each other up,” she said. “We need to gear up to stand our ground. If we do that, we’ll get through whatever they throw at us… and win a bigger and better contract for all of Northern California.”