In the latest strike to hit a Southland hospital in recent weeks, some 700 non-nursing health care workers at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center began an unfair-labor practice walkout Monday over what their union calls "bad faith bargaining and other illegal tactics meant to silence workers."
Workers began picketing around 6 a.m. and continued until 3:30 p.m. They drew criticism early Monday from Providence Southern California for what hospital officials said was behavior that was disruptive toward patients.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Providence St. Joseph-Burbank healthcare workers begin 5-day strike
"Sadly, the union's decision to march through the main circular driveway – and near the entrance to our Emergency Department – shouting, clanging cowbells and blowing whistles is producing intense noise that can be heard in the units with our most vulnerable patients," the hospital said in a statement Tuesday.
"Equally concerning are safety issues. One car blocked an ambulance while delivering coffee to protesters. In other instances, protesters in the main driveway prevented an ambulance attempting to transport a patient who waited 30 minutes on a gurney in the lobby, and a Burbank Fire Department rescue squad reported picketers in the street created a hazard."
A statement Sunday from Providence said the walkout would have "no impacts" on patient care, and that the strike comes after "our best efforts to engage in meaningful dialogue at the bargaining table," along with the offer of "significant wage increases."
The hospital statement went on to say that nurse leaders in the emergency department, intensive care unit, NICU, maternity and other departments "are concerned for their patients and visitors, some we fear will feel intimidated trying to enter our hospital for care or to see their critically ill family members."
"The union has offered unrealistic counterproposals in response and has chosen to strike instead of continue with good-faith negotiations," the hospital statement said.
But in a sharply worded reply to the noise and safety complaints, SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West spokeswoman Renée Saldaña said, "There are lots of frontline caregivers who can speak to how Providence's staffing is putting patients at risk, and we aren't going to play into their desperate attempts to divert from that."
"The strike is being caused by Providence's unfair labor practices, its failure to invest in caregivers, and the chronic short staffing that undermines quality care every day," Saldaña said. "Providence is attempting to silence health care workers so they don't speak out about the unsafe conditions they witness at work. The real issue is about not having enough staff to be there for patients when they are needed, maintaining a sanitary work environment, and providing life-sustaining care.
"If Providence wants to end the strike, it should stop its unfair labor practices and resume negotiations immediately to stop the Providence short-staffing crisis," Saldaña continued. "SEIU-UHW members are committed to delivering the best care to the communities we serve. Frontline health care workers are ready, and we won't be silenced."
The employees – including lab technicians, phlebotomists, EMTs, patient transporters, EVS workers and others – plan to continue their walkout until Friday, according to the SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West union.
Providence said Sunday it has contracted with replacement workers to fill in for striking union members.
Specific union concerns, according to an SEIU-UHW statement, include "longstanding issues of understaffing, worker turnover and patient care concerns," in addition to higher wages.
The union, which gave a 10-day notice last week of its intended strike, said it is taking the "last resort" action after months of bargaining.
An SEIU-UHW spokeswoman, Maria Leal, said contract talks broke off after the sides' last bargaining session on Oct. 13. The union's contract expired on Aug. 5, and the sides began talks in June, Leal said.
"We are being intimidated and threatened for wanting to improve our hospital, while Providence executives bargain in bad faith over solutions to our short-staffing crisis," Christian Ayon, a lead surgical technician at Providence St. Joseph, said in a statement released by the union.
"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. We fight not just for ourselves but for our patients that depend on us."
Providence officials said Sunday they have offered the union "what we believe is a very generous package with significant wage increases" – including a 24% wage increase over a three-year contract and market wage adjustments for many jobs.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Healthcare workers strike at Providence St. Joseph
Addressing the union's charge that patient care has suffered, the hospital statement said, "If there are incidents of unsafe conditions or poor quality care, the law requires that they be reported and investigated by the appropriate government agencies. That has not happened. In fact, just three months ago, the U.S. agency that oversees hospital quality ranked Providence Saint Joseph among the top 17.3% in the nation for overall quality."
The Providence statement went on to say, "The union has also accused hospital management of engaging in bad faith bargaining and other illegal tactics, including silencing workers. Providence Saint Joseph is committed to respectful discourse and urges caregivers to report concerns in a variety of ways, including via an anonymous integrity hotline."
Providence acknowledged high turnover rates since the pandemic, but said, "We have aggressively recruited and continue to do so, providing bonuses to caregivers who refer qualified candidates and to those hired in certain positions."
"It is public record that Providence Saint Joseph and many other hospitals and health organizations continue to suffer financially, post-pandemic," the hospital statement said.
The Providence strike follows a three-day walkout over many of the same issues by some 75,000 Kaiser Permanente workers from several states, including California, from Oct. 4-6. The sides in that dispute announced a tentative four-year agreement on Oct. 13.
Workers at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood also walked off the job for five days from Oct. 9-13.