Bay Area healthcare workers vote to strike, alleging widespread understaffing

More than 500 healthcare workers at two facilities in the San Francisco Bay Area voted to strike, saying they’ve endured understaffing, challenging working conditions, and unfair labor practices.

Set to take place in October, the strikes will include a variety of employees from Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch and John Muir Behavioral Health Center in Concord, including emergency room technicians, mental health counselors, respiratory therapists, transporters and licensed vocational nurses, among other positions.

Workers at each location allege that the facilities’ dire conditions stem from management ignoring concerns about severe understaffing.

A major worry for healthcare employees is not being able to ensure patient and staff safety while being “pushed to the limit” by employers, according to a Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West news release.

“We’re drowning—there’s just not enough staff,” Jennifer Stone, an emergency room technician at Sutter Delta Medical Center, said in the news release. “We’re wearing too many hats—we’re talking down angry COVID-19 patients, then we’re rushing to a code, then we’re talking to family members who just lost a loved one. We can’t give adequate care. We’re being neglected and left to fend for ourselves, and we can’t do it all anymore.”

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, workers claim that the facilities failed to provide adequate staffing for average patient levels due to years of poor management decisions.

Sutter Delta Medical Center did not respond to requests for comment by publication.

Bay Area caregivers say the past year has only worsened the extent of the crisis and further strained the healthcare infrastructure crumbling under a lack of workers.

Despite 85% of workers voting for union representation at John Muir Behavioral Health Center and beginning to organize in May 2020, staff have not been taken seriously at the bargaining table and management has made numerous changes without considering union input, claimed Sara Eisensteadt, a social services clinician at the medical center.

“The level of disrespect from our management has become something that is unbearable within the context of the pandemic,” Eisensteadt said. “We’re already tired and working so incredibly hard that it feels like such a slap in the face to not be supported or respected by our employer.”

In an email, John Muir Health said it has held 12 negotiating sessions since mid-May to reach a contract agreement with SEIU-UHS. The hospital said it has filled 18 positions and is in the process of hiring for 11 additional positions. Union members have been asked if they would volunteer for overtime shifts while the hospital continues the hiring process, the email noted.

“Unfortunately, SEIU-UHW’s leaders’ response to staffing concerns has been to encourage employees not to take overtime or open shifts,” the hospital email said. “The union just completed a two-week labor action that caused us to further limit behavioral health admissions to children, adolescents and adults.”

Clinician burnout, overtime and understaffing doesn’t just mean long wait times, Eisensteadt said. Patients can die if there is not sufficient medical staff to take care of them.

Throughout the pandemic, many healthcare workers have planned and carried out strikes due to a lack of personal protective equipment, a lack of adequate pay, and facilities being short-staffed.

Across the country, thousands are posting travel nurse positions to meet the demand for clinical staff and reduce their worker shortages.


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