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    Providence St. Joseph workers to strike beginning Monday
    • October 19, 2023

    An estimated 700 healthcare workers at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center plan to launch a five-day strike Monday, Oct. 23, claiming severe understaffing and high turnover are impacting patient care.

    The lab techs, phlebotomists, patient transporters and others at the Burbank hospital are represented by SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West. They allege bad faith bargaining by hospital management and say St. Joseph has engaged in illegal tactics aimed at silencing workers.

    Their labor contract expired in August and their last bargaining session was Oct. 13 — the same day the union issued a 10-day strike notice.

    A nursing assistant who recently worked in the hospital’s understaffed telemetry unit said, “one patient was halfway down the hall before we could respond, and some patients will be soiled for way too long before we can get to them.” (Photo courtesy of SEIU-UHW)

    Christian Ayon, a lead surgical technician at St. Joseph, said employees are being intimidated and threatened for wanting to improve conditions at the hospital.

    “This used to be a premier hospital, but we are struggling to give the quality care our patients deserve as we watch staff leave and positions go unfilled,” Ayon said. “We fight not just for ourselves but for our patients that depend on us.”

    Employees picketed the 466-bed facility on August 22, citing the same issues.

    Replacement workers contracted

    In a statement issued Thursday, St. Joseph didn’t address staffing concerns. But management said the hospital is “well prepared” for the strike and has contracted replacement workers for members of the bargaining unit who choose to strike.

    “(We) firmly believes that strikes don’t settle contracts,” the statement said. “They delay them and keep our caregivers from getting the pay and benefits enhancements they deserve.”

    St. Joseph said the hospital’s bargaining team has proposed significant contract enhancements, including a 24% hike in wages over a three-year contract. But the union, management said, has offered “unrealistic counterproposals.”

    The two sides plan to return to the bargaining table after the strike ends.

    St. Joseph nursing assistant Alexis Schoffstall plans to participate in next week’s walkout. She said staffing shortages have left her overworked.

    “Just yesterday I was floated to a telemetry unit where patients’ hearts are monitored,” the 36-year-old North Hollywood resident said. “I was the only nursing assistant on the unit with 22 patients. Normally, we should have two nursing assistants there, so I was doing the work of two people.”

    When that happens, patient care takes a hit, Schoffstall said.

    “There are bed alarms going off,” she said. “One patient was halfway down the hall before we could respond, and some patients will be soiled for way too long before we can get to them.”

    Widespread staffing concerns

    Southern California healthcare workers have staged a host of rallies, pickets and strikes in recents months, primarily over concerns of inadequate staffing, high turnover and low wages.

    Unions representing 75,000 Kaiser Permanente health care workers who recently held a three-day strike over wages and staffing shortages reached a tentative agreement with the healthcare giant last week.

    That walkout impacted Kaiser operations in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

    And an estimated 1,800 workers held a five-day strike earlier this month at four Prime Healthcare hospitals over chronic understaffing. The facilities included St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood,  Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood, Garden Grove Hospital Medical Center and Encino Hospital Medical Center.

    At St. Francis, 600 registered represented by the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals also joined in for their own week-long strike.

    Healthcare workers at Prime Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood held a noon protest in August, claiming short-staffing has left them overworked and undermined patient care.

    ​ Orange County Register