Keck workers plan to protest poor benefits

More than 900 USC Keck School of Medicine healthcare workers will participate in a one-day strike on Feb. 10 to protest the low quality of benefits and wages that hinder their ability to provide care. These healthcare workers, represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, are joined in solidarity with 1,200 nurses that are part of the California Nurses Association, who will be holding an informational picket at the same time.

The complaints of the caregivers, are divided into three primary concerns: “staffing cuts that jeopardize patients, poverty wages and unaffordable health insurance, and inadequate and discriminatory retirement and tuition benefits,” according to a press release by the NUHW.

Healthcare workers claim that staffing cuts have rendered them both overworked and underpaid, leaving them in dire straits when it comes to providing adequate care. The NUHW’s press release very pointedly emphasizes Keck Medicine CEO Thomas Jackiewicz’s 30 percent pay raise, in addition to Keck Medicine’s 2015 employment of Huron Healthcare, a healthcare consultancy “dedicated to delivering best-in-class revenue enhancement, expense reduction and clinical transformation solutions,” according to its website. The criticism is that the Keck is spending more money trying to cut down on costs rather than sufficiently pay its workers.

According to the NUHW, of the 900 healthcare workers who are striking, “one of every six earns less than $15, and some earn as little as $10.15 an hour.” This requires many healthcare workers to rely on public assistance; for instance, a big concern is Keck’s expensive medical plan, which leaves workers forced to use Medi-Cal.

The third plank of the NUHW-led worker’s qualms involves the fact that Keck does not provide tuition assistance to its workers, which helps to financially assist the children of USC faculty who aim to study at USC. The workers claim that it also does not provide workers with a retirement plan that allocates a 5 percent 401(k) contribution.

Alex Corea, a respiratory therapist, union steward and bargaining team member relates a growing dissent with USC’s actions following the NUHW’s split with the Service Employees International Union.

“When USC took over, we felt as though USC was going to embrace all the employees and treat us all the same, which became something that the employees were looking for -— in a sense, to be made whole,” Corea said. “Come to find out, that was not the case, and USC did not have the intention of making everybody whole.”