Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital caregivers on strike
Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital
Nearly seven hundred Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital caregivers held a one-day strike Tuesday, May 17, to protest understaffing, subcontracting of community jobs, denial of cost-of-living increases, rising cost of healthcare coverage, and mandatory overtime.
The SVMH caregivers were supported on the picket line by the hospital’s CNA-represented RNs, the Teamsters, the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council, CSEA, and Local 521. Daniel Dodge, district representative for Assemblymember Luis Alejo, also joined the picket line and spoke at the noon rally, as did NUHW President Sal Rosselli.
SVMH locked the workers out for two days following the strike. Caregivers responded by packing the room for the SVMH Board of Directors meeting on Wednesday and confronted the board and hospital CEO Pete Delgado.
The Salinas Californian, the Monterey Herald, Monterey Weekly (and its blog), and local television covered the strike, and the Salinas Californian published NUHW steward Esther Fierros–Nunez’s op-ed, “A Failure of Leadership at Salinas Valley Memorial,” in which she took on Delgado for his disingenuous remarks about the board’s decision to unilaterally implement the terms of its proposal on workers the previous week.
As Fierros–Nunez pointed out in her op-ed, the Salinas Valley community witnessed two alarming failures of leadership the week prior to the strike. First, SVMH CEO Pete Delgado reneged on his commitment to Assemblymember Luis Alejo to try to avoid a strike by participating in negotiations mediated by Alejo. Three years ago, Assemblymember Alejo successfully brokered a strike-averting deal between the hospital and workers.
“Mr. Delgado’s change of heart on mediation is a lost opportunity to end this impasse with an amicable resolution that would avert a strike,” said Alejo in his press release. “A strike will cost the hospital up to $1 million per day and it could have perhaps been avoided if Mr. Delgado and the hospital’s bargaining team would agree to mediate as soon as possible.”
A second failure of leadership occurred when Delgado and the SVMH Board of Directors, after receiving 10-day notice of the strike, retaliated against SVMH caregivers by unilaterally implementing drastic cuts and changes to their contract, including:
• Steep healthcare premium hikes that would nullify the insufficient cost-of-living increases the hospital has proposed. Patients are not well served when caregivers are struggling to get by, nor can SVMH expect to retain and recruit experienced caregivers without providing decent wages and benefits.
• Mandatory overtime that would force caregivers, with little notice, to scramble to arrange rides, daycare, or babysitters for their children. Voluntary overtime has worked in the past; increased staffing would solve the problem completely. Instead, SVMH administrators are undermining morale and the quality of patient care by forcing caregivers to work longer hours against their will.
• No increase in staffing and no voice for caregivers in determining staffing levels. Delgado and the board intend to continue their cost-saving, profit-boosting approach to healthcare by understaffing the hospital, forcing patients to accept lower standards of care, and demanding that caregivers work overtime to make up the difference.
Delgado has refused to budge on these and nearly 30 other concessionary demands, and has also made it clear that he expects workers to concede to the hospital the right to fire them and outsource their jobs to out-of-area workers.
“These are the proposals that Delgado claims are ‘in the best interest of our hospital and our employees,’ ” said NUHW President Sal Rosselli. “Delgado and the board have put profits ahead of patients and demonstrated complete disregard for the community they are supposed to serve.”
Delgado has proposed that the hospital and the union go to fact finding, a long and expensive process by which Delgado hopes to prolong negotiations with the goal of undermining the resolve of the hospital’s workforce.
SVMH’s cuts come at a time when the public hospital is enjoying soaring profits and lavishing huge salaries and benefits on its executives. The hospital made $45.4 million in profits in 2015. Its profit margin of 11.1 percent more than doubled the statewide averaget. Delgado received a 40 percent wage increase after just one year on the job and another 8 percent increase last year, bringing his base salary to $623,605.
Since bargaining began in July 2015, SVMH has failed to respond to the workers’ proposals for staffing ratios and a policy that would require the hospital to provide adequate training for nursing assistants. 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.