Kern Medical strike held off until August

Members of the Service Employees International Union Local 521 are postponing a strike at Bakersfield, Calif.-based Kern Medical.

The union represents 53,000 public-sector and nonprofit, private-sector workers in California's Bay Area, the Central Coast and the Central Valley, according to a July 7 news release. SEIU Local 521-represented Kern Medical healthcare workers include emergency room techs, nurses, medical assistants, sanitation and nutrition workers, patient transporters, medical therapists and social workers, among others.

Union members announced July 7 that they would begin a three-day strike July 26. Now, employees are scheduled to vote on Kern Medical's "last, best and final offer" beginning July 26, SEIU 521 told Becker's. The offer was delivered to the union bargaining committee July 18.

As a result, the strike was postponed. If Kern Medical employees reject the hospital's latest offer, the union's new strike date target is Aug. 9.

Meanwhile, the Kern County Hospital Authority, which oversees the public health system in Kern County and Kern Medical, approved a $15 million contract with Aya Healthcare to hire temporary workers in the event of a walkout, according to NBC affiliate KGET

"Kern Medical must be prepared for SEIU to strike. In anticipation of a strike, which we hope to avoid, the hospital authority's board of governors approved entering into a one-year agreement with Aya Healthcare to provide replacement workers if needed," the hospital said, according to the news station. "The maximum payable amount of the agreement is $15 million. We recognize this is a lot of money, but critical hospital and clinic services must remain open and available to the public should a strike occur."
Kern Medical added that it "strongly encourages SEIU to accept our last, best and final Offer to give our employees the much-needed wage increases they deserve."

The union contends that there is a patient care crisis in the public hospital system, partly because of short staffing resulting from uncompetitive low wages. SEIU 521 also argues that hospital management has paid exorbitant fees for travel nurses instead of offering competitive pay to its nursing staff. 

"We don't want to strike — it's the last thing we want to do, but the unfair labor practices and poor wages under the [Kern County Hospital Authority's] mismanagement of the public health system leaves us no choice but to take action that protects the health of our community, patients and our families," George Pfister, lead clinical nurse at Kern Medical and SEIU 521 bargaining team member, said in a July 7 union news release.

Both sides could still avoid a strike if their labor dispute is resolved.

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