“I’m afraid of what will happen to our patients if we don’t strike.”
More Than 3,000 Healthcare Workers Vote to Strike and Deliver 10-Day Notice of Unfair Labor Practice Strike to Alameda Health System
Healthcare workers united in SEIU 1021 announce an unfair labor practice strike, issuing 10-day notice to Alameda Health System on September 26, with a press conference at 1221 Oak St. in Oakland.
At issue are unfair labor practices, understaffing, health and safety issues for the patients and workers, and an unelected, unaccountable management team that is not providing adequate patient care for the community.
Alameda Health System is Alameda County’s safety-net public health system. It serves a mostly low-income community that is more than 70% Black and brown, and delivers more than 200,000 hours of patient care per year. As the COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged our communities, with more than 20,000 cases and 350 tragic deaths in the county so far, the system has been stretched to the limit.
Healthcare workers at Alameda Health System (AHS), including 3,000 nurses, housekeepers, technicians, food service workers, and others united in SEIU Local 1021, have voted overwhelmingly to strike, with 98% of votes YES votes, and on Saturday the 26th issued a 10-day notice of intent to strike to AHS.
“The system is in crisis,” said Highland Hospital Emergency Room nurse John Pearson, “And it has been in crisis since long before the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been coming to AHS management for years, telling them about what our patients need, and they’ve been failing to provide it. I’m afraid of what will happen to our patients if we don’t strike.”
AHS is Alameda County’s safety-net hospital system, serving more than 200,000 patient hours per year to a population that is mostly low-income and more than 70% Black or brown. It is managed by volunteer Trustees who have not been able to provide adequate patient care, and the system’s workforce has repeatedly called attention to these failures and advocated for better patient care both with AHS management in the workplace and at the bargaining table, and repeatedly at meetings with the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. AHS management has responded with refusals to bargain, attacks on union members, and layoffs that put the community’s most vulnerable members at greater risk, without translators or community health outreach specialists to counsel sexual assault victims.
“The only solution for us and our patients is for the Board of Supervisors to take full responsibility for funding and governing AHS. Our patients deserve nothing less,” said Pearson.
As a public health system, AHS always struggles with underfunding. Unfortunately, it also struggles with mismanagement. Under CEO Delvecchio Finley, management has taken an aggressive stance against its own workforce, engaging in many unfair labor practices both at the bargaining table and in day-to-day operations.
Under Finley’s watch, AHS didn’t even sign the negotiated and agreed-upon contracts that ran from 2017 to 2020, and have tried to impose unilateral changes on those contracts. Throughout contract negotiations, his representatives have routinely failed to answer requests for information, with two dozen outstanding items stretching back to November 1, 2019, and have denied caucus time to SEIU 1021’s elected bargaining team members, and have even refused to allow some members time away from work to attend bargaining sessions.
AHS has spent massive amounts of public money trying to deny medical benefits for its own workers and their families, and has recently even begun to lay off healthcare workers in the middle of a pandemic. They are cutting services to the public, including translators and community health outreach workers who help victims of sexual assault in the emergency room. The pandemic has only made AHS workers more determined to fix the broken system they see, and on Monday they began to vote on authorizing their elected bargaining team to call a strike.
Even before the pandemic, SEIU 1021 members were speaking out, rallying outside their worksites, petitioning the County Board of Supervisors, and working with community allies and organizations to try to get AHS to address worker concerns and make the system a fair, safe place for the community to go for the healthcare that they so desperately need.
Veronica Palacios is an Eligibility Specialist II at Oakland’s Highland Hospital. She’s been there for 20 years. She says, “Our patients need a safe space to go to get the medical care they need, and as employees, we need a system that has our back in a time of crisis. Our community, from Oakland to Newark, deserves a safe place to go with employees they trust. I enroll patients with no medical coverage into country, state, and federal programs to help them with their bills so they can continue receiving medical care, and I personally have assisted generations of patients, grandmothers to mothers to grandchildren. We’re voting to strike because we’re fighting for patient safety.”