Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital workers will hold a 24-hour strike tomorrow after they rejected “the last, final and best offer” made by the board of directors on May 13. The strike comes after more than ten months of negotiations between hospital administration and the National Union of Healthcare Workers. The two sides reached an impasse February when mediation fell through.
“The majority of the staff will participate,” says Grant Hill, organizer with NUHW. “People are fed up, they’ve been at the bargaining table since last July.”
The strike will cost SVMH $1.6 million as the hospital covers travel, lodging, food and wages for replacement workers being flown in from around the country to keep hospital operations up and running while workers picket outside, says spokesperson Karina Rusk.
The NUHW represents 700 employees from 90 job classifications including nursing assistants, phlebotomists and janitorial workers. While cost-of-living increases, fast-tracking disciplinary actions and changes in paid time off are wedge issues, Hill says, the refusal to take out any language about subcontracting is still the main obstacle.
Assembly member and county supervisor candidate Luis Alejo attempted to intervene May 9 by offering to help mediate an agreement. SVMH CEO Pete Delgado originally agreed but “reneged” the following day, according to a statement released by Alejo’s office expressing his disappointment. Having a candidate running in a heated campaign for office involve himself in labor negotiations would not be the best track, says Rusk.
The board’s decision to unilaterally implement “the last, final and best offer” will be carried out over the coming year, and employees will see the first two percent pay increase in June. In the implementation of the final offer the administration included 36 tentative agreements already made with the union and withheld divisive language on subcontracting and strikes, says Rusk.
Striking hospital workers claim they will be “locked out” for two days if they miss a shift during the strike. The hospital on the other hand says there will be “delayed reinstatement” as the hospital is contractually obligated to give replacement workers—who the union derides as scabs—work on available shifts Wednesday and Thursday work if needed to work on Tuesday.
The administration is encouraging workers to enter a fact finding process under the Public Employment Relations Board, but the union is refusing. While a fact finding process supported the demands of the California State University faculty who were threatening to strike earlier this year, Hill believes the process would be burdensome and might not result in a favorable outcome for hospital staff.
“There’re some people in the union membership who are ready for a longer strike,” says Hill. “Should management not come to their senses there will be further actions.”