A group of medical workers at Prime Healthcare's Encino Hospital Medical Center formed a union this week, and have set their sights on fighting layoffs at the facility during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A private arbitrator certified the union creation on Tuesday. The group, which includes 25 case managers, social workers, pharmacists, clinical lab scientists and dietitians, will join the Service Employees International Union Local 121RN, a union of Registered Nurses and other licensed healthcare workers.
"We're working on the frontlines during the worst public health crisis in modern history," the Encino Professionals' Union Organizing Committee said in a statement. "We'll now have the ability to sit across the table from management to address issues such as under-staffing and working conditions."
The hospital laid off nearly half of its staff, including the entire clinical lab, a week before the election and brought in replacement personnel to fill those positions, the union said. The newly organized Encino employees plan to fight the layoffs.
"We can put these tensions behind us and work on making improvements at the hospital. Our counterparts in nearby hospitals have been able to use their united voice to advocate for department resources, bring management into discussions on patient safety and safe staffing and win guaranteed support for ongoing education and training," the organizing committee said. "We're ready to sit down and negotiate with management."
Prime Healthcare said it has been able to retain more than 99% of its employees without reductions or furloughs during the pandemic and noted that "Encino is a small community hospital that Prime saved from closure 12 years ago."
"Like most hospitals across the country, Encino Hospital had been experiencing lower volumes due to COVID-19, and it was necessary to consolidate certain areas with our sister hospital in Sherman Oaks, impacting only 25 positions," Prime Healthcare said in a statement. "These Encino positions were not part of frontline care and involved departments such as human resources, food services and lab services. Every staff member is invited to apply to other roles within our health system."
SEIU Local 121RN President Dr. Nina Wells said the union is "elated" to add the hospital's employees to their ranks.
Prime Healthcare operates 45 hospitals in 14 states.
This story was updated to reflect that the union was certified by a private arbitrator.