Almost 4,000 healthcare service workers at 10 San Francisco-area hospitals walked off the job last Thursday to protest the drastic restructuring of the healthcare industry there.
The one-day walkout by Service Employees International Union Local 250 halted elective surgeries and impaired outpatient services at five Sutter Health hospitals, three Catholic Healthcare West hospitals and two unaffiliated hospitals.
For certain hospitals, notably 468-bed Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley, 420-bed Summit Medical Center in Oakland and 60-bed Sutter Solano Medical Center in Vallejo, the day was complicated by a sympathy strike by nurses represented by the California Nurses Association, which had just reached a contract agreement the week before.
At Alta Bates and Summit, which now operate as one organization, the average patient census is 720. On Thursday, it was 293.
The SEIU's contract expired May 31. CHW's Bay Area spokesman Bob Polzoni said the union took a strike vote before the Roman Catholic hospital system put any formal wage offer on the table.
"We don't know for sure what they were protesting. One thing they have indicated they want is guaranteed jobs for life, no layoffs," Polzoni said. "That's just not acceptable to us."
The SEIU represents 1,600 employees at the three CHW hospitals.
The SEIU said in a written statement its members went on strike to "show management they are serious about ensuring safe staffing, maintaining a secure, stable workforce at their hospitals, and other proposals to make their hospitals better places to give and receive care."
Sal Rosselli, president of SEIU Local 250, based in Oakland, said a major issue in the strike is staffing and profit gouging. "Their normal operation is to eliminate departments and lay off staff. It's all about money to them. That's the real danger to patient care," Rosselli said.
Part of the reason it may appear to be all about money is that major healthcare organizations are losing so much of it. CHW lost $90 million on operations last year, and Alta Bates and Summit together lost $12 million.
Hospital representatives could not estimate yet how much last week's strike cost the hospitals.
The next negotiating session between SEIU and the 10 hospitals is scheduled for July 14.