Strike set at 4 Prime hospitals

Members of the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals and Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West are set to launch a strike Oct. 9 affecting four Prime Healthcare facilities in California.

The unions represent about 2,400 workers at four Prime hospitals: St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood, Garden Grove Hospital and Medical Center, and Encino Hospital Medical Center, according to union statements shared with Becker's. Ontario, Calif.-based Prime Healthcare operates 45 hospitals and more than 300 outpatient locations in 14 states.

Members of both unions, which include registered nurses, licensed vocational nurses, certified nursing assistants, medical assistants, emergency room technicians, respiratory therapists and others, have been in negotiations with Prime for new contracts at the four facilities. Union members contend that during negotiations, management has not adequately addressed workers' concerns about issues related to alleged unsafe staffing and high turnover. 

"We are calling on Prime Healthcare to stop their unfair labor practices, bargain in good faith, and listen to the front-line healthcare workers that this community depends on," Bernie Espinoza, an ultrasound tech at Prime Garden Grove Hospital, said in a statement. "Staffing has been so critically low that many caregivers have left. The remaining workers are stretched thin and rushed. We're forced to take on more patients with less staff, which leaves much less time for quality one-on-one patient care."

In its statement, UNAC/UHCP claimed that Prime cut nurse salaries when it bought St. Francis in 2020 and that registered nurse turnover has doubled to more than 50% since then, leaving the hospital "dangerously understaffed."

Prime emphasized its commitment to bargain in good faith.

"Proposals have been delivered to the unions that would increase wages and provide comprehensive benefit programs, including healthcare, that is among the best in the nation at little to no cost to employees," the health system said in a statement shared with Becker's. "We believe the current proposal benefits all our employees and hope to reach an agreement so we can continue our mission of providing compassionate, quality care to patients."

Prime also noted recognition its hospitals have received for care and service; efforts it has made to hire, recruit and retain staff; support and growth opportunities it offers through continuing education, tuition reimbursement, career development and other programs; and investments it has made in improvements to hospitals.

Regarding St. Francis specifically, Prime said the hospital "has a special story having been rescued from bankruptcy during the pandemic. After millions in investments to improve technology, systems and infrastructure, the hospital has achieved nationally recognized patient safety and quality awards while providing vital care for its community, earning commendation from local and state leaders. None of this would have been possible without our dedicated staff.  We are committed to ensuring a workplace that honors their work and continues to provide lifesaving care for the most vulnerable."

At St. Francis, registered nurses represented by UNAC/UHCP will join other healthcare workers for a five-day strike beginning Oct. 9. SEIU-UHW healthcare workers plan to strike at the three other Prime hospitals at the same time.

A strike could be averted if a deal is reached before Oct. 9. 

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