The workers say they are fighting for better wages and staffing. The company says it’s making preparations if a strike occurs.
Editor's note: Workers and management have come to a tentative deal, averting the strike. Here's the latest.
About 3,000 healthcare workers could be going on strike at five HCA Healthcare hospitals beginning next week.
Workers argue that the HCA hospitals haven’t negotiated in good faith and complain about low wages and worker safety issues. Unless a deal is reached, they plan to strike beginning May 22 and plan to be on the picket lines for five days.
The workers plan to strike at these hospitals: HCA Good Samaritan Hospital and HCA Regional Medical Center in San Jose, HCA Los Robles Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, HCA West Hills Hospital, and HCA Riverside Community Hospital.
The workers are represented by SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West and 97% of the workers voted in favor of the strike, the union said. The workers who are planning to walk out include emergency room technicians, nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, lab techs, dieticians, pharmacy techs, food service workers, transporters, and others.
HCA Healthcare Far West issued a statement describing the planned strike as “reckless and unnecessary, and not in the interest of patients,” KTVU-TV reported. The company also said the strike was surprising due to progress made in recent negotiation sessions.
“A strike benefits no one and may prevent our communities from having access to timely medical care. The hospital leadership teams are working day and night to prepare in advance of the planned strikes,” HCA Far West said.
SEIU, the nation’s largest union of healthcare workers, has clashed with HCA, the for-profit company that operates more than 180 hospitals around the country.
The union produced a report arguing that HCA persistently engages in low staffing at its hospitals, about 30% below the industry average. The union contends HCA is placing its own profits ahead of the needs of patients.
HCA has defended the quality of its care. A company spokesman told NBC News in January that the company strives to provide top-notch care and said more than 80% of HCA’s hospitals have an “A” or “B” grade from The Leapfrog Group, an organization which evaluates hospitals on patient safety.
Speaking at the ViVE Conference in March, HCA Healthcare CEO Sam Hazen said success in patient care is driving the company’s growth. “We would not be successful if we weren’t centered on that,” he said.
The union workers say the HCA hospitals in California have engaged in threats and intimidation in the contract dispute. The union also says the majority of its workers at the California facilities said they aren’t adequately staffed.
A news release from SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West offers a statement from Xochitl Gonzalez, a patient care technician at Los Robles Medical Center in Thousand Oaks.
"We are prepared to strike because HCA cannot keep bargaining in bad faith and denying what we experience every day at our hospitals," Gonzalez said in the release. "I have never seen working conditions or patient care suffer more. But executives counting shares don't see that—they never have to look our patients in the face like we do."