Dignity Health workers protest amid pending CHI merger

Healthcare workers protested across California Tuesday at facilities owned by San Francisco-based Dignity Health, including Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz and Mercy Hospital Southwest in Bakersfield. 

The Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, which represents about 15,000 Dignity Health employees, confirmed workers protested at Dignity Health facilities in Santa Cruz and Bakersfield, as well as in Camarillo. The union estimated 316 workers protested in Santa Cruz, 68 in Camarillo and 128 in Bakersfield.

SEIU-UHW spokesperson Sean Wherley told the Santa Cruz Sentinel workers primarily seek to maintain the wages and benefits, and are particularly concerned about Dignity Health's proposed merger with Englewood, Colo.-based Catholic Health Initiatives.

"The concern is that once they merge, the new entity may not share the same priorities as Dignity Health," Mr. Wherley told the publication.

The protests come as a labor deal for Dignity Health workers is slated to expire in April.

In a statement cited by KBAK/KBFX on Tuesday, Dignity Health said it has "shown respect for our employees" during negotiations for a new labor deal and "continues to bargain in good faith."

"As we continue our alignment of Dignity Health and Catholic Health Initiatives the hospital systems share a strong history of working with labor unions to benefit our employees, our patients and our communities," the statement reads. "With no geographic overlap in hospital service areas, we will have a stronger operational and financial foundation as a combined organization and do not anticipate any significant impact to local jobs in our service areas, including Bakersfield, as a result of the combination with CHI."

Mr. Wherley said via email additional protests scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in San Bernardino, Redding and San Andreas are canceled. He said Dignity Health and the union plan to go back to the bargaining table Friday, and those protests will be rescheduled if an agreement is not reached that day.

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