REDWOOD CITY — After a nearly two-week-long strike by hundreds of Sequoia Hospital workers, management and strikers reached an agreement for a 16% raise effective immediately and provisions that could make healthcare benefit costs more predictable.
Over 300 nurses’ assistants, aides, surgical techs and other essential workers walked out of their jobs on July 18 demanding better pay, benefits and staffing conditions after negotiations for a new contract with Dignity Health fell apart. Following a bargaining session July 28, the parties approved the agreement Friday and returned to work Monday.
While workers say they did not get everything they wanted from these negotiations — in part because Dignity Health said workers would lose their healthcare benefits Aug. 1, if they continued the strike — the new contract promises a 16% raise over four years, and a 2% signing bonus.
The new contract also changes language in previous agreements that authorized Dignity Health to raise employee insurance premiums at a moment’s notice. The healthcare system will no longer be able to do that moving forward, and union members won’t have to pay any health insurance premiums until 2025.
Mele Rosiles, a certified nurses’ assistant and member of the bargaining team, said the new contract is “a major victory for labor.”
“To us, this was one of the most productive, meaningful and powerful actions ever done against management in the history of Sequoia Hospital,” Rosiles said. “We wanted to win this to stand up for what we believe is for our betterment and for caring for our patients as best we can.”
In a statement to this news organization, Dignity Health spokesperson Kevin Kimbrough said the company is “pleased to announce that Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City and AFSCME resumed negotiations on July 28 and reached a tentative agreement on a 4-year contract, covering more than 300 technical and service employees with a vote on July 29.”
“We are pleased to welcome our AFSCME-represented employees back to work,” the statement said.
It’s a major win for healthcare workers who have over the past two years of the COVID pandemic faced workplace pressures unlike any other and who now are dealing with inflation and cost of living increases chipping away at their paychecks. Workers at Sequoia Hospital were among a growing number of healthcare workers across the Bay Area who have recently taken collective action to demand better working conditions, wages and benefits.
The workers who walked out of Sequoia Hospital in mid-July said they were dealing with low pay, staffing shortages, and a company that failed to advocate for staff recruitment and retention, which has become a “major problem and has led to a crisis in patient caseload.”
For Rosiles, going back to work after a successful direct action makes her feel more connected to her co-workers, and others have expressed to her similar sentiments as they returned to work Monday. Rosiles, who will return to work Tuesday, said she’s excited to go back to caring for her patients.
“Most of our members were very strong and very angry that they have been overworked and not compensated enough especially during this economic crisis,” Rosiles said. “Everybody came together united and strong. We are happy that we are back to work with our patients after these two weeks.”
Still, Rosiles lamented that the strike took longer than initially expected.
“We thought it would take a shorter amount of time,” Rosiles said. “We thought we would strike shorter but with management telling us that we would lose our benefits if we don’t return to work 1st of August, it was like putting a gun to our head while we’re fighting for our contract.”
The same thing happened to Stanford and Packard Hospital nurses when they launched a strike in April. As thousands of nurses remained on the picket line outside the two hospitals amid ongoing contract negotiations, Stanford Health Care warned that health benefits would be cut off for all nurses not on the job May 1st.
Stanford nurses reached an agreement with management May 2.