A group of unionized caregivers and nurses who claim they are at risk of losing their available sick leave benefits due to what they decry as “illegal policy changes” at Keck Medicine of USC staged an informational picket Tuesday, but Keck officials said the policy complies with all applicable laws.

“In January 2020, Keck Medicine of USC updated its attendance and punctuality policy to ensure that the organization continues to provide the exceptional care our patients expect from us each and every day,” according to a hospital statement in response to the labor action. “The updated policy provides more sick and kin care leave than required by both federal and state law, and allows employees time off for personal and family illness.

“Additionally, Keck Medicine complies with all federal and state law regarding protected leaves of absence.”

The caregivers, represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers and California Nurses Association, contend the policy changes violate USC’s union contracts and will cost roughly 2,600 caregivers, including nurses, to lose available sick leave.

According to the unions, the revised policy will make it harder for more than 2,600 hospital employees to take sick leave for themselves or care for sick children, spouses or parents.

“In violation of its union contracts, USC is unilaterally imposing new rules that limit sick leave and impose harsh penalties on workers who need more time to recover from illnesses or take care of their sick family members,” according to a statement issued by the picketers’ unions.

According to the unions, state law guarantees that workers can use up to half their paid-time-off allotment as Kin Care — to care for sick family members, but USC is claiming the right to unilaterally limit all forms of sick leave to no more than 96 hours, which amounts to eight days for workers on 12-hour shifts.

The university is also imposing new attendance rules in which a single unexcused absence could result in a final warning before termination, according to the statement.

“As a healthcare employee, we come in contact daily with patients who are ill,” said Lucy Lamont, a patient coordinator at Keck Hospital of USC. “The risk of us contacting infections and illnesses is greater than the general public. I take that risk because I love my job and my patients. But it’s not OK with me that USC will turn around and punish me for getting sick.”

Keck Medicine officials said hospital and clinic operations were fully staffed during the picketing.

“We respect the right of our NUHW and CNA members to demonstrate and recognize that they are an essential part of what makes our health care facility among the best in the country,” according to the hospital.

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