California hospital workers walk out as labor disputes over staffing heat up

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Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, disputes between unions and California hospitals over staffing shortages are intensifying, prompting healthcare workers to walk off the job and hold rallies, CalMatters reported Oct. 15.

Strikes have occurred at hospitals including Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch, Calif., and Chinese Hospital in San Francisco. Healthcare workers at Keck Hospital of USC and USC Norris Cancer Hospital in Los Angeles also authorized a five-day strike, although it was averted when workers reached a three-year contract. Most recently, nurses and other healthcare workers voted to authorize a strike at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California.

Demands for more staffing and greater investment in recruiting and retaining staff are often at the center of these disputes. This week, nearly a third of California hospitals reported "critical staffing shortages” to HHS, and more are expecting shortages within a week, according to CalMatters

Among the contributing factors to shortages are workers leaving the profession, retiring early or taking extended leaves of absences amid pandemic-related stress.

Hospitals say this has left fewer candidates to fill the staffing need, including support staff, according to CalMatters.

"There is no question there is a shortage of healthcare workforce. We have far fewer people in the workforce today than we did when the pandemic started," Jan Emerson-Shea, spokesperson for the California Hospital Association, told the news outlet. 

Ms. Emerson-Shea added that although many hospitals have offered shift bonuses and other perks, organizations are relying more on travel workers.

But unions are asking hospitals to try harder to retain their current employees with better labor contracts instead of bringing in travel workers. 

"Right now, hospitals, the health industry, the state of California, you need to do a lot more so that it doesn't get worse," Dave Regan, president of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, told CalMatters. "We're doing very little as a state to support this workforce that has been under a really unique set of pressures."

Read the full report here

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