Sutter Care at Home caregivers are organizing for change with NUHW

NewsApril 27, 2022

More than two years since COVID-19 started spreading around the globe, NUHW is seeing explosive membership growth as healthcare workers, still reeling from working grueling hours without adequate health protections, demand a bigger voice in their workplaces.

Among the caregivers forming unions with NUHW are home healthcare workers employed by Sutter Health, the largest non-profit hospital system in Northern California.

Sutter touts its visiting nurses; speech, physical and occupational therapists; and other healthcare professionals as a vital component of its system of care, but for too long it has refused to care for these employees, ramping up their caseloads and failing to provide wages that would help alleviate staffing shortages.

Sutter At Home workers are now organizing to improve their working conditions and the care they provide as members of NUHW.

Over the past year, more than 200 Sutter at Home workers have voted to join NUHW with big organizing election wins in San Francisco, Concord, and San Leandro. NUHW, which already represented Sutter Care At Home workers in Santa Cruz, has also launched a petition for 49 service and professional workers at Sutter Hospice San Mateo.

“We’ve seen how NUHW has empowered workers to stand up to Sutter and win better wages and working conditions,” said Sutter San Leandro Physical Therapist Charlene Lagac. “Now that we’re organized, we have the power to advocate for ourselves and the people who depend on us for care.”

Low wages, high caseloads

Sutter At Home caregivers have organized to address high caseloads and intentionally unrealistic productivity expectations, as well as lack of competitive pay and a real say in how their work is done.

“We had no say in anything that was happening to us,” Charlene Fredman, a speech language pathologist for Sutter Care at home in Concord, who said that a growing understaffing crisis at Sutter has left her traveling “all over the place” trying to care for her patients. “It’s a lot of wear and tear on my body,“ she added.

Fredman said that in trying to meet the needs of her patients, she doesn’t have time to provide the care and do the documentation necessary to qualify for Sutter’s 4 percent merit bonus.

“If I’m working with a patient one-on-one, I can’t be sitting there taking notes on my computer,” she said. “Getting merit pay is “totally impossible.”

Management had ignored the caregivers’ concerns, but things have already changed as contract bargaining approaches.

“We’re learning the ins and outs of things to make life better for everyone,” Fredman said. “It’s been fascinating to see how this has brought us closer together.”