More than 700 healthcare workers at a Providence St. Joseph Health hospital in Santa Rosa, Calif., have started a five-day strike over COVID-19 safety concerns and contract negotiations.
The 740 striking workers at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital include nursing assistants, respiratory therapists and medical technicians. They are represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers.
"We are confronting a pandemic without the staffing levels and (personal protective equipment) we need to keep ourselves and our patients safe," Melissa Bosanco, a nursing assistant, said in a prepared statement. "Santa Rosa Memorial should use its profits to help us get through the pandemic safely instead of trying to take away our sick leave and affordable healthcare."
In a public statement, Santa Rosa Memorial said that union picketing "is not an uncommon activity during contract negotiations" and that the hospital had contracted with an agency for replacement caregivers for a minimum of five days.
"It is important for our patients and their families to know that our doors will remain open," Tyler Hedden, Santa Rosa Memorial chief executive, said in a prepared statement.
Santa Rosa Memorial said its emergency department is fully staffed but that outpatient imaging services will be closed during the strike.
The union said workers at the 338-bed regional trauma center have been routinely denied N95 masks, even when caring for suspected COVID-positive patients or when administering COVID-19 tests to the community, and said the hospital is proposing a contract that would reduce paid time off and sick leave and increase healthcare costs.
"I was evacuated during the 2019 Kincade wildfire and still kept working," Taylor Davison, who registers patients in the hospital's ED, said in a prepared statement." Now, Santa Rosa Memorial wants to cut my sick leave and health benefits during a pandemic. We can't provide the care our community needs when our hospital only cares about profits."
Santa Rosa Memorial said it has been meeting with the union for the past year and that its proposal included wage increases, no cuts to paid time off, retirement and benefits options compared with other Providence St. Joseph hospitals in Northern California.
"We recognize our caregivers' rights to engage in this action and other lawful activities, however, we are deeply disappointed that NUHW has decided to hold a five-day strike given that the number of COVID-19 cases is on the rise in Sonoma County and the potential for a significant increase in hospitalizations remains. It's important we remain vigilant and continue to be prepared for the worst-case scenario," the hospital said in a news release.