NUHW: Forging Ahead in 2023

NewsDecember 12, 2022

We have a saying at NUHW that we Win to Grow and we Grow to Win. It’s an acknowledgement that the more victories we win in our workplaces, the more we’ll inspire other workers to join NUHW. And, the more workers that we organize, the more power we’ll have to win even bigger for each other and our patients.

Over the past 12 months, NUHW has added more members than any year in the past decade. More than 1,200 healthcare workers in California joined our union in 2022, sending our membership soaring well above 16,000.

As we forge ahead in 2023, we’ll confront many challenges working in an inherently flawed healthcare system that still puts profits over patients and the people who care for them. But as the past year has shown — from the historic mental health strikes we waged to the breakthrough contracts we won, and our growing power in Sacramento — our future is brimming with potential.

Growing Stronger 

The pandemic is certainly a contributing factor to our recent growth. We’ve been inundated with inquiries from unorganized workers who realized how important it is to have power in their relationship with their employers when they found themselves trying to save lives without adequate staffing or supplies during the worst days of the pandemic.

But the biggest reason so many workers are joining NUHW is not that they fear for their health, it’s that they’re inspired by our example. Over the past two years, NUHW members and stewards, with support from organizers, have set the standard for protecting healthcare workers, safeguarding patients, and winning the best contracts.

We’ve shown what a union can accomplish when it empowers its members, and healthcare workers have taken notice. It’s no accident that the vast majority of workers who have joined NUHW over the past year work in the same facilities or the same healthcare systems where NUHW members have won some of our biggest victories.

The power and unity displayed by NUHW members at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital was not lost on their colleagues. In March, more than 850 Fountain Valley registered nurses and professionals voted to leave their union and become NUHW members — and in November they ratified a contract that will increase starting wage rates up to 41 percent and provide cost-of-living raises between 11 and 41 percent over the next three years.

The situation was similar for hundreds of workers at the Keck USC and Sutter Health systems, where strong contracts helped advance strong organizing drives. Workers at several Keck clinics joined NUHW this year after the more than 1,500 NUHW members at Keck Medical Center of USC last year won a contract that increased wages by up to 39 percent for workers who had been paid significantly less than their counterparts at UCLA, and up to 68 percent for workers at the Alhambra Call Center who were negotiating their first contract.

Winning Life-Changing Contracts 

We’ve built on our recent bargaining successes by winning larger raises to help offset rising prices. Kindred workers in Orange County recently won a three-year contract with average wage increases exceeding 23 percent. At West Anaheim Medical Center, average wages will increase 19 percent, while wages will grow 16 percent under a new contract at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital and 14 percent under a new contract at Sutter’s California Pacific Medical Center.

Many NUHW members who were under contract this year successfully pressured their employers to get additional raises to keep up with expenses and address the growing shortage of healthcare workers. The biggest increases were at Richmond Area Multi-Services in San Francisco, where NUHW members won on average 21 percent raises. At Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, many NUHW members got 5 percent mid-contract raises.

We won more than strong raises in contract bargaining this year. At several hospitals, we forced employers to agree to a new bereavement system that expands the definition of family. And our Kaiser members in Oakland and Richmond held a strike on Martin Luther King Jr. Day that forced Kaiser to finally make the King Holiday a paid holiday for all Kaiser employees across the country — 36 years after it became a federal holiday.

Advancing Mental Health Parity

Our 12-year fight to win parity for mental health care at Kaiser Permanente and beyond took a giant leap forward in 2022. On July 1, a new law that we sponsored took effect in California, requiring health insurers to provide follow-up therapy sessions within 10 business days unless the treating therapist determined that a longer wait would not be detrimental.

With Kaiser unwilling to comply with the law or negotiate a fair contract, more than 2,000 mental health therapists in Northern California went on strike for 10 weeks before winning a contract that included major gains for them and their patients, including commitments from Kaiser to increase staffing, boost crisis care, lengthen intake appointments for children, and allow more time for therapists to perform critical patient care duties.

A strike by Kaiser therapists in Hawai’i began two weeks after the strike in Northern California and ultimately became the longest strike by mental health care workers in U.S. history. The impact of both strikes will be felt for years to come. In addition to constant media coverage, the strike has triggered ongoing state and federal investigations into Kaiser’s mental health services. In Hawai’i, the largest purchaser of health insurance took the unprecedented step of allowing its members to leave Kaiser if they felt they couldn’t access timely mental health care.

With Kaiser already under Medicare Fraud investigation by the Department of Justice that includes allegations that it upcoded mental health diagnoses to increase its reimbursements, the HMO is under even more pressure to improve its mental health services and comply with our landmark law in California.

Upcoming Challenges

Our most important goal remains reforming an unjust healthcare system that leaves poor people and people of color too often unable to afford care or access care close to home. We see the injustices of our current system at Seton Medical Center in Daly City where a new for-profit owner refuses to invest in a safety-net community hospital and at hospitals owned by Providence, which was exposed this year for trying to collect medical bills from patients who qualified for charity care.

NUHW is continuing to lead Healthy California Now, the state’s preeminent coalition working to make California the first single-payer Medicare for All state. This year we released a calculator that thousands of Californians have used to see how much they’d save under Medicare for All, and we will be furthering our efforts with state leaders in the coming months.

After waging a 10-week mental health strike in California, we better understand the deficiencies of the state agency tasked with regulating Kaiser Permanente, and we’ll be hard at work crafting a legislative program to improve oversight of the largest HMO in the state.

NUHW members are forging ahead at bargaining tables across California with workers fighting to protect jobs and services at UCSF Children’s Hospital Oakland; address understaffing at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center; and win fair wages at Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital.

Our efforts will be supported by local elected officials across the state, who understand our issues and appreciate our support for their candidacies. This year, we expanded our political operations and worked hard, volunteering many hours to elect important allies to key posts, including Liz Ortega and Damon Connolly to the State Assembly in the Bay Area; Pilar Schiavo to State Assembly from the Inland Empire; Caroline Menjivar to the State Senate in Los Angeles and Catherine Blakespear to the State Senate in San Diego; and Karen Bass as the first female mayor of Los Angeles.

In Orange County, we also helped re-elect Katie Porter to Congress and Katrina Foley to the Board of Supervisors. In Oakland we helped Sheng Thao win the mayoral race. And we’re very proud of NUHW member Laura Nakamura, a cardiac sonographer at Children’s Hospital Oakland, who was elected to the Concord City Council, and Latika Malkani, one of NUHW’s attorneys, who won election to the Orinda City Council.

We’ve all been put through the ringer these past few years, but we’ve come out stronger and more unified than ever before. The victories we won in 2022 will help us win even bigger battles as we forge ahead together into the new year.