Santa Rosa Memorial workers stage biggest strike since pandemic’s onset

NewsJuly 28, 2020

More than 700 NUHW members, including respiratory therapists, housekeepers, dietary workers, nursing assistants, and medical technicians, held a five-day strike at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital in July.

Despite generating huge profits for its corporate parent, Providence St. Joseph Health, executives at the 338-bed regional trauma center are demanding that workers accept sharp cuts to accrued sick leave and healthcare benefits amid the worsening pandemic. 

“This strike has been about standing up to greed,” said Jo Obermayr, a scheduler in Santa Rosa Memorial’s Imaging Department. “If one of the most profitable hospitals in one of the nation’s wealthiest hospital chains can get away with cutting sick leave and health benefits during a pandemic, they can get away with anything. We’re fighting for our community, and for other caregivers who could soon find themselves in the same position.”

During the five-day strike, hundreds of strikers were joined on the picket lines by elected officials, community members, and colleagues who belong to other unions. Every major media outlet in the Bay Area covered the strike, including KTVU, KRON4, KSRO, CBS-5, ABC 7, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, San Francisco Chronicle, KCBS Radio, KRCB, and News of the North Bay.

“This strike has sent a clear message to management that we won’t let them get away with taking excessive profits from our community while cutting our benefits and leaving our hospital understaffed and without sufficient PPE,” said Mito Gonzales, a laboratory technician. “The support we’ve received this week from local leaders, nurses, and patients makes us even more determined to preserve our health care during the pandemic and beyond.”

While COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Sonoma County, caregivers at Santa Rosa Memorial are routinely denied the N95 masks that provide the highest level of protection. Even nursing assistants caring for suspected COVID-positive patients and phlebotomists administering COVID tests to hundreds of community members are not automatically provided N95 masks.

Santa Rosa Memorial has reported a $201 million operating profit over the past three years for Providence St. Joseph Health, a multibillion dollar hospital chain that has received more than $500 million in federal stimulus funds. Santa Rosa Memorial was the only hospital in Santa Rosa to stay open during the 2017 and 2019 wildfires, with evacuated workers traveling long distances to care for patients.

Despite soaring profits, Santa Rosa Memorial laid off dozens of caregivers in 2018. Now, instead of providing sufficient PPE during a pandemic, the hospital is trying to force workers to accept a contract that would:

  • Reduce paid-time-off, which includes accrued sick leave.
  • Sharply increase health care costs, including more than doubling the cost of annual premiums for the most popular family plan from $1,887 to $4,609.

“We don’t have enough PPE to keep us safe, but management wants us to pay twice as much to insure our families,” said Shannon Signer, a radiology technician at Santa Rosa Memorial. “Our health has never been at greater risk. We need our hospital to support us, not squeeze us for every last dime during a pandemic.”