Since holding a strike in early February, the National Union of Healthcare Workers has been successful in negotiations with USC’s Keck School of Medicine in earning an improved contract with the university healthcare system for 800 workers.
“Eight hundred USC Keck workers forced USC to adhere to its own rhetoric by making them full members of the Trojan family, both by compensating them fairly and by granting them a voice in the hospital’s staffing and patient-care policies,” said Sophia Mendoza, NUHW’s secretary-treasurer.
That contract — which was finalized in late March and includes an annual wage that is calculated by experience and years of service as well as tuition assistance — however, has currently not been extended to 100 workers who work in the hospital cafeteria but are employees of subcontractor Sodexo, a national company that provides “quality of life” services to many institutions.
According to a video on the NUHW Facebook page, USC and Sodexo have been paying some Keck Hospital employees “pennies above minimum wage” without taking into account factors such as length of service. As a result, NUHW claims that some Keck employees have had to ask for government assistance such as food stamps to make ends meet.
The video also compares USC to public institutions such as UC campuses and the Los Angeles Unified School District and how those institutions have made commitments to pay their service workers a minimum wage of $15 an hour.
Mendoza noted that USC has the resources to pay a livable wage to its workers at Keck.
“It is fully within USC’s power and means to see that all of its workers, even those employed by subcontractors, are paid a livable wage,” Mendoza said.
In late January, the NUHW had informed the University that a one-day strike would be held at Keck Hospital demanding of a better contract for the union’s employees on Feb. 10. The NUHW workers on the picket line included nurses and food services and cafeteria staff, as well as other picketers from the California Nurses Association in support of NUHW.
A statement from Keck Hospital called the strike “largely a non-event” and claimed that only a fraction of Keck’s NUHW-affiliated employees actually participated. To prevent the strike from affecting patient care, Keck hired contract employees and worked with the LAPD to provide a “safe environment” throughout the strike.
USC acquiesced before the beginning of April on the contracts for healthcare workers.
However, the union will continue to negotiate the contract for the 100 food service workers it represents at Keck. Currently, NUHW has alleged that USC has had Sodexo keep costs down at the expense of worker’s salaries.
Mendoza points out that USC can remedy the situation in a number of ways, such as by paying Sodexo more money for salaries or by doing away with the subcontractor all together.
“The real solution is for USC to stop exploiting these workers via Sodexo by bring them back in-house and treating them as full members of the Trojan family, with full Trojan pay and benefits,” Mendoza said.
USC has yet to provide a statement on the NUHW agreement or on continuing discussions at the time of publication.
The University did not immediately respond to request for comment.