Hundreds of Sutter Health workers begin strike

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More than 350 healthcare workers at Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch, Calif., began a five-day strike Oct. 4, according to the union that represents the workers.

The workers, who will strike Oct. 4-8, cited what they say is massive understaffing, difficult working conditions and unfair labor practices.

Service Employees International Union–United Healthcare West said its members are worried about patient and staff safety and contend COVID-19 has exacerbated staffing problems.

"We're drowning. There's just not enough staff," Jennifer Stone, an emergency room technician at Sutter Delta, said in a news release. "We're wearing too many hats — we're talking down angry COVID patients, then we're rushing to a code, then we're talking to family members who just lost a loved one. We can't give adequate care. We feel like management is ignoring our concerns and is leaving us to fend for ourselves. We can't do it all anymore."

The union announced Sept. 14 that Sutter Delta workers planned to strike in October unless agreements were reached. The strike includes emergency room technicians, respiratory therapists, phlebotomists, transporters and licensed vocational nurses.

Sutter Delta, part of Sacramento, Calif.-based Sutter Health, expressed disappointment about the union's choice to strike, especially during the pandemic, and said it stood by its latest contract offer.

"Sutter is doing everything we can to support the emotional and physical wellbeing of our caregivers while working to meet staffing challenges head on by offering competitive pay and benefits, hiring additional staff to fill permanent and temporary positions, utilizing shift bonuses, bringing in agency staff and recruiting voluntary transfers across Sutter's integrated network," a system spokesperson said in a statement shared with Becker's.

The spokesperson added, "The union's attempt to distract from their unwillingness to reach an agreement by spreading misinformation or scaring patients away from seeking care is irresponsible at best. We stand by our commitment to patient safety, and SDMC remains open and fully operational despite the actions of the union."

Sutter Delta is proposing a 13 percent salary increase over four years: 3 percent annual salary increases each year for three years and a 4 percent increase in the fourth year of the contract. Sutter Delta said it is also proposing 100 percent employer paid health coverage for employees and their families, as well as money "to support access for our employees to education, credentialing and growth opportunities and creates a pipeline for new hires."

According to Sutter Health, this contract was recently approved by more than 3,000 employees at seven of eight other SEIU-represented hospitals across the system.   

SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West represents more than 100,000 healthcare workers, patients and healthcare activists in California.

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