Northern California healthcare workers set strike date

Healthcare workers at Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch, Calif., plan to strike the first week in October, according to the hospital and the union that represents the workers.

In a statement shared with Becker's, a hospital spokesperson said Sutter Delta received a notice from Service Employees International Union–United Healthcare West that union members intend to strike for five days beginning Oct. 4.

The strike notice comes after the union announced Sept. 14 that 500 healthcare workers at Sutter Delta and John Muir Behavioral Health Center in Concord, Calif., planned to strike in October unless agreements were reached.

A tentative agreement was reached Sept. 23 on a contract at the behavioral health center, and employees are now voting on it, John Muir spokesperson Ben Drew said. Meanwhile, workers at Sutter Delta are still headed for a walkout.

The workers cited inadequate staffing at the facilities, as well as difficult working conditions and unfair labor practices. 

"We're drowning. There's just not enough staff," Jennifer Stone, an emergency room technician at Sutter Delta Medical Center, said in a union 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're being neglected and left to fend for ourselves, and we can't do it all anymore." 

Workers say staffing issues existed before the COVID-19 pandemic and, because of staffing and management decisions, many hospitals already didn't have adequate staffing for average patient levels, according to the union.

"Caregivers in the East Bay say COVID exacerbated this already strained infrastructure, and some health systems' responses to the pandemic have only worsened the preexisting crisis," said SEIU.

Sutter Delta, part of Sacramento, Calif.-based Sutter Health, expressed disappointment about the looming strike and accused the union of refusing to make a good faith effort to reach an agreement.

The hospital also said it stands by its offer, which includes "pay and benefits that are as good or better than others in the area."

The hospital 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.   

A strike could be averted if Sutter Delta and the union reach an agreement before Oct. 4.  

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