Dignity hospital to striking workers: Return to work by end of month or risk losing benefits

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 829, who began an open-ended strike July 18 at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City, Calif., could risk losing their benefits if they don't return to work before Aug. 1.

The union represents about 300 technical and service employees, but does not represent registered nurses, according to a Dignity Health statement shared with Becker's. Sequoia Hospital is part of San Francisco-based Dignity Health, which merged with Englewood, Colo.-based Catholic Health Initiatives in February 2019 to form Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health.

Dignity Health said it offers health benefits to its employees, and a regular work schedule is required to maintain benefits. "Employees who do not meet the benefits plan program requirements are removed from benefits plans at the beginning of each month. In August, this will include employees who stopped work in conjunction with AFSCME's indefinite strike," the health system said.

Union members, which include nurses' assistants, aides, surgical techs, respiratory therapists, housekeepers and cooks, voted to go on strike July 7, according to NBC Bay Area. The open-ended strike began July 18 and follows several months of negotiations. Dignity Health said it hired temporary replacement staff during the strike, and the hospital "continues to serve our community and provide care to our patients."

Meanwhile, both parties have not resolved their labor dispute. The union, in a news release issued around the beginning of the strike, said its members want the hospital to provide fair pay and benefits as well as invest more in workers to keep staff and ensure high-quality patient care.

"We just want them to see that we're ready to bargain," Abigail Knight, a 33-year anesthetic technician, told The Redwood City Pulse. "We're ready for them to come and talk to us. We've been waiting. We want to get back and take care of our patients."

Regarding ending healthcare benefits for striking workers, Ms. Knight told the publication: "We feel like they're threatening us. It's really a stress on all of us."

In its statement, Dignity Health contends it "has offered a competitive compensation package that recognizes the important work that our employees provide, including annual wage increases, generous healthcare benefits and a bonus upon ratification of a new contract."

The health system said employees losing coverage may purchase COBRA continuation coverage, and Dignity Health benefits will restart for those workers once they return to work.

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