Unionized USC caregivers picket, blast changes to sick leave policy

Caregivers at Keck Hospital of University of Southern California and USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles are picketing Feb. 11 over sick leave policy changes they allege are illegal and put patient care in jeopardy, according to the unions that represent them.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers and California Nurses Association said the university is imposing policy changes beginning Feb. 16 that limit sick leave and harshly penalize employees who need more time to recover from illnesses or take care of their sick family members. The new rules, the unions allege, violate labor contracts and would force many university caregivers to work while sick, putting patients at risk.

"My family has had to cope with serious illnesses and being able to use my full sick leave helped us get through tough times," Mekicia Gillett, a laboratory assistant at USC Norris Cancer Center, said in a news release. "I don't understand how USC, or our patients benefit from limiting our ability to care for ourselves or our families during the moments they need us most."

Unions noted that California law allows workers to use up to half their paid time-off allotment to care for family members who are ill. But they said the university is limiting sick leave to no more than 96 hours, or eight days for workers on 12-hour shifts, as well as imposing new attendance rules in which one unexcused absence could lead to a final warning before termination.

The changes will affect more than 2,600 caregivers, including medical assistants, respiratory therapists and medical technicians represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers and registered nurses represented by the California Nurses Association.

In a statement, Los Angeles-based Keck Medicine of USC said it updated its attendance and punctuality policy in January, and the policy provides more sick and kin care leave than required by federal and state law. The statement said the policy also allows workers time off for personal and family illness and that Keck Medicine complies with federal and state laws regarding protected leaves of absence.

"Our hospital and clinic operations remain open and fully staffed with doctors, nurses and all other clinical professionals. Our No. 1 priority during this informational picket — and always — is to provide outstanding patient care," Keck Medicine added. "We respect the right of our NUHW and CNA members to demonstrate and recognize that they are an essential part of what makes our healthcare facility among the best in the country."


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