Facing an unprecedented safety and staffing crisis, healthcare workers around Northern California fight back
Long before COVID-19, SEIU 1021 healthcare workers were there for vulnerable patients in our communities—often despite a lack of adequate staffing and other dangerous working conditions. Now that we’re a full year into the worst global health emergency in over a century, many of our healthcare members find themselves working through crisis-level conditions.
“The general public believes that when they come to the hospital, the workers taking care of them are rested, fed, and 100% focused on their care. Instead, we are routinely short-staffed, forced to work through meal breaks, and mandated to work overtime. When you’re on hour fifteen of a shift, it’s hard to give every patient the care and attention they deserve,” said Dianna Yañez, a Labor and Delivery nurse at San Francisco General Hospital.
While these issues spiral out of control, many hospitals, health systems, and Public Health Departments have dragged their heels or manipulated their hiring practices in ways that exacerbate understaffing, unsafe working conditions, and a hostile work environment.
“When our most vulnerable mentally ill patients are experiencing complete breakdowns, our staff is often their only option for support.” said Taffie Walter, a Chief Psychiatric Technician at San Joaquin County Behavioral Health. “As public health workers we are under constant threat of physical assaults from unstable patients and it’s only gotten worse since dealing with COVID.”
Shami Engel, a Psychiatric Emergency Services nurse in San Francisco, said, “I have never experienced so much violence and low staff morale in my ten and a half years in PES as we have during this pandemic. We have had to fight for protection against exposure to COVID by sending out emails, speaking at meetings with hospital administration, sharing our experiences with the Board of Supervisors, and reaching out to reporters to have our voices heard.”
These problems are made worse by many employers relying on temporary staff to plug holes in their schedules, rather than hiring enough permanent, dedicated staff to care for patients. The reliance on temporary staff is a trend that has been increasing in many city and county workforces in recent years. Not only is it an issue our union is committed to confronting because it erodes the security of just cause employment which all workers deserve, but it’s an issue that has real implications in the workplace. SEIU 1021 members are committed to fighting to improve standards, working conditions, and services for our communities across Northern California, though—and we’re turning that commitment into action.
You can support San Francisco healthcare workers in their fight by signing their petition at www.seiu1021.org/healthcarejustice.