A planned walkout involving more than 300 unionized healthcare workers at a west Riverside hospital will not go forward as planned Thursday, following word that a tentative collective bargaining agreement was cinched.
Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West had announced Monday that all 334 members working at Doctors Hospital of Riverside would be taking to the picket lines at 6 a.m. Thursday for a 24-hour strike to raise awareness about problems with staffing, low wages and other issues under negotiation.
However, as of Wednesday afternoon, negotiators for SEIU-UHW and hospital owner AHMC in Alhambra reached a compromise that included concessions that the union was seeking, according to officials.
One of the key elements of the compact, which is slated to be put before the union membership for a formal vote at the end of the month, was “significant wage increases” for caregivers, some of whom are being paid minimum wage, SEIU-UHW said in a statement.
“A big reason we’ve been so understaffed is that it’s hard to get workers to stay here,” Doctors Hospital of Riverside Pathology Assistant John Richardson said. “People would come for three to six months, get some experience and move on. Now, with this new agreement, we’ve got a better chance of keeping experienced caregivers here in Riverside to care for our patients.”
Doctors Hospital of Riverside released a statement to City News Service expressing relief that “the union has called off its planned action.”
“We are proud of the professionalism and dedication demonstrated by our caregivers and other staff, who continue to work tirelessly to protect our community,” according to the statement.
The union’s original demands included the need for AHMC to address “unsustaninable turnover, sub-standard wages and unfair labor practices.”
According to SEIU-UHW spokeswoman Renee Saldana, one of the unfair practices was “intimidation tactics” by administrators, whom, she alleged, have blocked SEIU negotiators from meeting directly with employees in the facility.
In a statement released Monday, Doctors Hospital of Riverside said, “quality of care and patient safety” were a priority, and the union’s strike threat was likely intended to ratchet up pressure on hospital negotiators.
“We do not believe this action by the union is either warranted or helpful,” the hospital stated.
The facility was purchased by AHMC in 2019 and was previously known as Parkview Community Medical Center — the name still used by most people in the area, including ambulance and fire crews.
Labor actions have been initiated at the hospital in the past, focusing on issues similar to the ones recently cited.
In 2015, SEIU-affiliated members filed formal complaints with the California Department of Public Health over allegedly unsanitary conditions that they said were jeopardizing patient and worker safety. One of the complaints pointed to maggots appearing in a patient’s nose and more in cafeteria meals.
The ensuing CDPH investigation resulted in citations but no findings that hospital staff or patients were exposed to danger.
In December 2020, nurses at Riverside Community Hospital downtown threatened a strike over allegations such as work assignments that caused them to be placed in settings outside their expertise, as well as ongoing problems with under-staffing and insufficient safety protocols amid the coronavirus surge then underway.
After lengthy pre-Christmas negotiating sessions, SEIU Local 121RN’s shop stewards and hospital owner HCA reached a compromise that led to a new collective bargaining agreement incorporating the nurses’ demands.