Caregivers go on strike over wage, benefits

More than 700 caregivers in scrubs and lab coats will form picket lines outside the Keck Medical Center of USC today to voice grievances in contract negotiations.

Short-staffing at the hospital, stagnant benefits and a proposed one-year wage freeze are among the issues picketers hope to address, said Leighton Woodhouse, director of communications for the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

“Workers are now at the point where they feel it’s necessary to send a message to the employer and educate the public about what they are fighting for,” Woodhouse said.

The strike is being organized by the NUHW, a group that represents USC employees ranging from respiratory care practitioners to surgical technicians. The strike is scheduled to last 24 hours, but university officials said NUHW’s permit with the city is only for 12 hours.

The caregivers represented by NUHW do not receive the same retirement plan and family tuition assistance as hospital nurses and most other university employees, according to Woodhouse. Picketers also feel they are unable to provide adequate care because the size of their staff is insufficient to fulfill their responsibilities.

Hospital CEO Mitch Creem said in a press release Tuesday that the picketers collect competitive compensation and benefits in comparison to other local hospitals.

“Currently, our NUHW employees receive a wage and benefits package that is competitive in the market,” Creem said. “While we are unable to discuss the specifics of our proposals publicly, we can say that our NUHW employees are among the highest paid in the region. At a time when many competitors are demanding concessions, we have offered numerous enhancements.”

Hospital management plans to implement extra security precautions and has used an agency to find replacements for employees on strike. It also posted information about the strike for its employees and patients on its website Monday.

“Our management team has been working steadfastly to implement our strike action plan to ensure smooth operations and the safe working environment that our patients, families and employees expect and deserve,” Creem said.

The caregivers on strike, who were formally represented by another union, have been negotiating a first contract with NUHW since August of last year and voted to authorize the strike, Woodhouse said. Earlier this year, caregivers staged an informational picket, where employees protested during breaks but did not stop working.

The federal government issued complaints against the hospital after NUHW filed labor charges for unfair conduct, according to Woodhouse. The hearing is scheduled for Oct. 24.

“The government looked at the charges, agreed with them, and now will have hearings to determine whether the hospital is, in fact, in violation of the law,” Woodhouse said.