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Healthcare workers kick off 5-day strike at four hospitals over staffing shortage, labor practices



Roughly 1,500 essential workers at four hospitals in Los Angeles County kicked off a five-day strike Monday morning to protest what they claim are dangerous working conditions and unfair labor practices by hospital management.

Employees at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood walked off the job and picketed outside while nonunion nurses and staff were brought in to keep the hospital open, according to union organizers.

Nurses and other staff at Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood, Garden Grove Hospital and Medical Center, and Encino Hospital Medical Center are also participating in the strike through Friday.

The strike follows on the heels of what many called a “hot labor summer,” when writers, actors and hotel workers organized labor actions across Southern California. Last week, more than 75,000 Kaiser Permanente workers across California and in other states staged a three-day strike over a contract dispute.

The latest strike by healthcare workers includes 600 nurses under the United Nurses Assns. of California/Union of Health Care Professionals and 900 healthcare workers represented by SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West. That union includes nursing assistants, medical assistants, vocational nurses, emergency room technicians, respiratory therapists and environmental services aides, among others, according to a news release from the unions.

Both groups are currently bargaining for new contracts with Prime Healthcare, the company overseeing the hospitals. The contracts expired in August, according to union representatives. Prime Healthcare acquired St. Francis in August 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, Prime Healthcare said it is continuing to bargain in “good faith” with union leadership to serve employees and patients.

“While we are disappointed that the unions have elected to move forward with a strike, we respect their right to strike as part of the negotiation process,” the statement said.

The statement goes on to say that the entire country is suffering through a nursing shortage, and Prime Healthcare has attempted to recruit, hire and retain staff and create a safe workplace.

Management representatives plan to meet with union organizers representing the nurses but have not set a date for a meeting with SEIU, according to the statement.

Medical personnel who worked through the worst of the pandemic, when emergency rooms and intensive care units overflowed with COVID patients, said they walked out over unsafe working conditions.

“It’s hard to articulate,” St. Francis Registered Nurses Assn. president and nurse Scott Byington said when reached by phone Monday morning.

“It saddens me to think that something I like to do and something I like to do at this facility, I have to actually walk out on,” he said.

Byington, 57, has worked at St. Francis since 1995 and said that in the past when there was an impasse between the union and management, the two sides would find a way to reach a solution. He accuses management of greed and failing to create a safe space for patients and employees.

“We have never had to have a picket, we have never had to have a strike,” Byington said. “We’re getting tired of going in and seeing patients suffer because we can’t do what needs to be done for them. Because we don’t have enough manpower.”

Union organizers say the employee turnover rate at St. Francis has steadily increased over the last five years and registered nurses at the hospital have filed more than 6,000 complaints with the state’s Department of Public Health over staffing shortages that they say violate California’s requirements for nurse-to-patient ratios. In response, Prime Healthcare said that only 11 complaints filed by the union in the last year were considered for follow-up by the Department of Public Health, and none of them were substantiated by the state agency.

Mayra Castaneda, an ultrasound technologist at St. Francis Medical Center, said hospital management does not care about staffing shortages or the demands employees have made.

“They don’t care to hear what we’re saying or where we’re crying out for staffing,” she said over the phone from the picket line. “We work 20 hours, 18 hours, 16 hours straight. There’s no one to relieve us.”



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