A strike involving nurses and other medical workers at three Southern California hospitals was narrowly averted Saturday when their union and the management company that operates the facilities reached a tentative labor agreement.

Workers at Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, Riverside Community Hospital and West Hills Hospital and Medical Center had called a 10-day walkout earlier this week that was scheduled to run Dec. 24 through Jan. 3.

The employees, represented by SEIU Local 121 RN, have alleged their facilities are understaffed and lacking in adequate COVID-19 protections. They are seeking improved staffing levels, better access to protective equipment, more testing and better quarantine policies.

The union had given the hospitals 10 days advance notice to allow ample time to bring in temporary replacement staff. All three facilities are owned by the Nashville, Tenn.-based Hospital Corporation of America.

Kerry Cavazos, a nurse at Riverside Community and chapter president of the union there, said Saturday’s tentative agreement is a major step forward.

“We were able to get some strong pandemic safety guarantees in our union contract,” he said. “We may be one of the first healthcare unions in the country to get such strong language in our contract.”

Union members at the three hospitals will hold a contract ratification vote Dec. 22 and 23.

Bargaining power, increased staffing

Language in the contract provides a guarantee for union members to immediately sit down to discuss and bargain over the hospitals’ planned response within two weeks of a declared public health emergency.

It also includes a commitment to hire dozens of RNs at each hospital to ensure staff can safely take rest and meal breaks.

This marks the first union contract for 120 pharmacists, clinical laboratory scientists, social workers, dietitians and others at Los Robles, who formed their union in December of last year.

‘A positive development’

HCA called the contract “a positive development for our colleagues, patients, fellow medical providers and the communities we serve.”

“This agreement with the union, along with the new vaccines, provides reason for optimism among our friends, families and neighbors and helps stabilize our area’s healthcare system,” the company said in a statement.

In September, nurses introduced a Pandemic Safety Platform, vowing to use their collective voice to advocate for improved safety protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic. They said they felt betrayed by their hospitals as well as public health agencies.

“This bargaining team did a phenomenal job of staying focused and strong,” said Rosanna Mendez, the union’s executive director. “Not only are they risking their lives every day to fight this disease, they also stood up and insisted that this big corporation listen to the health and safety recommendations of the trained professionals on the front lines.”

HCA said it put the health and well-being of it employees and patients first throughout the bargaining process.

“We will continue to do so as we collectively battle the pandemic which is bringing so much pain to our communities, the company said.


By Richard Moran

Richard Moran loves to write about sports with the Golden State Online. Before that, he worked as a senior writer at ESPN. Richard grew up in San Diego and graduated from the University of San Diego in 2004, after which he worked as an editor for five years.

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