Seton workers strike to restore quality health insurance

NewsMarch 26, 2024

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More than 400 NUHW members struck Seton Medical Center in Daly City on March 25 and 26, demanding that the hospital restore their health benefits.

Every Bay Area news station covered the strike as workers shared their experience of working at the community hospital for decades only to no longer be able to access health care for themselves or their children.

“I’m worried about my family, my kids not having basic insurance that works,” Julia Vinogratsky, a respiratory therapist at the hospital with three children, told KQED. ”The closest doctors are about 45 minutes to an hour’s drive.”

Rachelle Ortua, a materials management technician at Seton, told KPIX-5 that she recently had to delay vaccinations for her then-four-month-old daughter because her doctor wouldn’t take her new insurance and that the nearest hospital available to treat her daughter is more than an hour’s drive from her Sunnyvale apartment.

In violation of their union contracts, AHMC Healthcare changed its health plans on Jan. 1, forcing all workers at Seton, including NUHW members to either pay up to $6,000 a year to keep access to their doctors and hospitals or accept a new health plan with very few participating doctors mostly based in San Francisco and only two participating hospital systems: John Muir Health and Seton, which doesn’t offer pediatric or prenatal care.

NUHW members, who had gone years without raises while Seton faced bankruptcy, fear that the sharp reduction to their health benefits is a further sign that AHMC is considering closing the safety-net hospital that has primarily served low-income immigrant communities in Northern San Mateo County and San Francisco for generations.

The company bought Seton out of bankruptcy court four years ago, agreeing to continue operating it as an acute care hospital at least through 2025. But AHMC has gutted patient care services and initiated several rounds of layoffs, cutting non-nurse staffing by nearly 25 percent. The company has also:

  • Surrendered Seton’s Advanced Stroke Certification,
  • Stopped providing 24/7 radiology services, forcing patients to wait days for procedures,
  • Reduced wound care services, and
  • Refused to fix broken equipment including the service elevator needed to safely transfer patients throughout the hospital.

During strike rallies, community leaders expressed their support for workers and concern over AHMC’s stewardship of the hospital.

“How can you treat your workers fairly, if you do not provide them with the healthcare they deserve?” Daly City Mayor Juslyn Manalo said during the rally. “This is our community hospital, and we fought to keep it open. So Seton ‘do the right thing and we will keep making sure that our workers are treated fairly.’”

AHMC imposed the health benefit cuts to all union employees, including registered nurses, but the strike is being held by approximately 430 NUHW members, who include respiratory therapists, nursing assistants, housekeepers and medical technicians, whose contracts expired in December.

“Seton is our community hospital, and our top priority is to keep it open for patients, but Seton won’t survive if it refuses to provide workers with basic access to medical care, said John Paes, a respiratory therapist and Daly City resident, who has worked at Seton for 27 years.

Paes said that so far his family has had to change doctors, while three medical bills have not been paid by his insurance, and one is already on a credit hold.

“The situation makes me feel very sad,” Paes said. “A lot of us are hanging on because we’ve been like a family. It’s hard to break that bond, but it hurts because of how AHMC is treating us and our patients.”