Strike set to begin at Kern Medical

Members of the Service Employees International Union Local 521 are set to begin a three-day strike July 26 at Kern Medical in Bakersfield, Calif.

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 the dates of a strike July 7 after rejecting hospital management's offer and authorizing a walkout, according to SEIU Local 521. In a statement, Kern Medical officials told KGET that healthcare workers were offered wage increases of 18 percent to 28 percent over a new three-year contract during a June bargaining session, and the proposal the union offered that day "is not reasonable or financially feasible."

"Our nation has seen unprecedented inflation from world events and unheard-of numbers of employee resignations. These events have also significantly affected Kern Medical and our dedicated employees," hospital officials said, according to the news station. "Our employees deserve wage increases now to continue to support themselves and support Kern Medical's mission."

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 Local 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 Local 521 bargaining team member, said in the union news release.

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

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