Members of a union representing 2,000 workers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles have voted to allow their bargaining teams to call a strike in May.
The action by Service Employees Union International-United Healthcare Workers West members comes after their contract with the not-for-profit hospital ended March 31. Contract bargaining began March 21, according to the union.
Workers are demanding the hospital negotiate in "good faith" over staffing levels, patient and employee safety, and wages, a news release said. Ninety-three percent of the employees voted in favor of approving a three-day strike if talks don't progress, the union announced Monday.
The strike vote is "premature" and a work stoppage is "not imminent," Cedars-Sinai Medical Center said in a statement. "Before a strike can occur, the union is required to give advance notice. No such notice has been received at this time."
There have been only two bargaining sessions so far, and the union rejected an offer to roll over the previous contract with the addition of 15% average pay raises over three years, according to the hospital. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center raised minimum pay rates by $2 per hour, provided "thank you" bonuses, offered free lodging and reimbursement for child care and elder care, and gave workers pay protection, the hospital said.
The SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West represents Cedars-Sinai Medical Center employees including certified nursing assistants, transporters, environmental services workers, plant operations workers, surgical technicians and food service technicians.
The union plans to picket the hospital April 20 and expects to disclose tentative strike dates at that time, SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West spokesperson Renée Saldaña said.
"We're committed to giving our patients the best care possible, but that gets harder as our workload increased significantly during the pandemic," Jose Sanchez, a lead transporter at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said in a news release.
The high cost of living in Los Angeles, exacerbated by inflation, was "part of the tipping point" for the strike authorization vote, Saldaña said. Some SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West members at the hospital make as little as $17 per hour, she said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked numerous labor actions among U.S. healthcare workers, including unionization campaigns, strike authorizations and protests. Employees have sought changes such as higher staffing levels, better safety and increased compensation.
The United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals alone organized five workplaces to represent occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, pharmacists and nurses in California and Hawaii last year.
Kaiser Permanente and unions representing nearly 50,000 workers reached a deal on a contract days before tens of thousands planned to go on strike in November.