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Workers ratify labor contracts at three Southern California hospitals

More than 830 healthcare workers at three Tenet hospitals in the region have voted overwhelmingly to ratify labor contracts boosting pay and improving benefits.

The negotiations involved multiple three-year contracts.

One covers more than 610 respiratory therapists, nursing assistants, medical technicians and others at Tenet Healthcare’s Fountain Valley Regional Hospital.

The other contracts cover about 225 housekeepers and dietary workers at the Fountain Valley facility and two other Tenet hospitals — Los Alamitos Medical Center and Lakewood Regional Medical Center. Tenet subcontracts the jobs to Compass Group.

The move averts a potential strike among the workers who are represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers. Last month, employees authorized a walkout for all three hospitals in an effort to boost staffing, pay, benefits and pandemic-related safeguards.

Union allegations

Workers have alleged the facilities are understaffed while the company has received billions in federal COVID-19 relief funds and spent more than $1 billion to buy 45 surgery centers. 

Tenet disputes those claims, saying the Cares Act money the hospitals received was vital in helping to partially offset challenges of the pandemic.

Johnenfer Larry, a housekeeper at Lakewood Medical Center, said the new contract — with 97% of workers voting in favor — represents a victory after “a brutal 18 months” of negotiations.

“We won respect for the work we do and big pay increases that will make a big difference in our lives,” Larry said.

Previous labor contracts for the Fountain Valley workers expired in May, and contracts for employees at the Lakewood and Los Alimitos hospitals ran out in November and December.

In a statement released Monday, Tenet spokeswoman Jennifer Bayer said the healthcare company was focused on reaching an agreement that was good for both employees and Fountain Valley Regional Hospital.

“This agreement provides a long-term competitive compensation and benefits package to ensure that we remain well-staffed and have the resources to continue to provide excellent patient care,” she said.

Wage increases, lower healthcare costs

The contract for Fountain Valley workers will boost salaries by an average of 15% in the first year with additional raises the following two years. It includes additional pay for working late shifts as well as a new health plan that lowers premium costs by thousands of dollars yearly.

“This contract shows what we can achieve as caregivers when we stay united and fight for our patients,” said Ron Rosano, a surgical technician.

The contracts for subcontracted housekeepers and food service workers at all three hospitals set a minimum hourly wage of $18.20, mirroring the base pay for non-subcontracted workers at the facilities.

Most of the subcontracted workers previously didn’t have a salary floor and will receive immediate raises of 17% to 30%. They’ll also get 3% raises in the second and third years of the contract.

Compass said it places a high value on its workers.

“We take pride in paying competitive wages and providing affordable benefits,” the company said in a statement.

In June, NUHW sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Director Xavier Becerra and Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Rebecca Slaughter supporting a request from Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine, for a federal investigation into whether Tenet and other major hospital operators have misused their stimulus grants and COVID relief funds.

“There is ample evidence to suggest that Tenet Healthcare used COVID-relief funds to improperly expand its business, enrich its executives and shareholders and prioritize the company’s bottom line over patients and caregivers,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said in the letter.

Bayer said the government support Tenet received was used solely for the purpose of providing COVID relief to its providers during a time of “unprecedented strain” on the entire healthcare system.

“Any claim to the contrary is not based in fact and is not credible,” she said.

Source: Orange County Register

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