The union that represents nurses and other licensed health care professionals at Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks has called off a strike that had been scheduled to start Christmas Eve.
The union, Service Employees International Union Local 121 RN, announced Dec. 14 that it would go on a 10-day strike over many concerns at three Southern California hospitals owned by HCA Healthcare: Los Robles, Riverside Community Hospital and West Hills Hospital & Medical Center in the San Fernando Valley. The concerns included long-standing issues like staffing levels, and also concerns over staff and patient safety in the face of the pandemic, including not having enough personal protective equipment, having to re-use dirty PPE and not having access to fast, reliable tests to determine if an exposed staff member was infected.
In a Dec. 18 statement, the union said its bargaining team spent more 100 hours in the previous week negotiating with HCA’s team before reaching an agreement to avert the strike. The new contract will go before the full SEIU membership at all three hospitals for a ratification vote on Dec. 22 and 23.
“This is a positive development for our colleagues, patients, fellow medical providers and the communities we serve,” Los Robles said in a news release. “We appreciate community leaders who put the needs of the communities first over the past week and expressed concern regarding the planned strikes.”
The new contract guarantees that in the event of a declared public health emergency, both the hospitals and the union will sit down and discuss the hospitals’ response within two weeks of the emergency being declared. Another new part of the contract is a mandate that hospital provide all PPE as required by laws and regulations.
In the more immediate term, HCA has agreed to hire dozens of registered nurses at each of the three hospitals, which will alleviate staffing issues.
“I’ve been on the bargaining team before, but this time it feels like we made history,” Kerry Cavazos, a nurse at Riverside Community and the president of that hospital’s SEIU chapter, said in the union’s news release. “We were able to get some strong pandemic safety guarantees in our union contract—we may be one of the first healthcare unions in the country to get such strong language in our contract. Nurses and licensed professionals were willing to strike for this—even during a pandemic—to make sure our hospitals are better prepared for public health crises.”
The unit at Los Robles that was ready to strike includes 730 nurses and 120 other medical professionals, including dieticians, pharmacists and physical therapists.
When the strike was first threatened, Los Robles management said it had the beds and personnel to care for all patients even during a strike and a pandemic. But as the strike date drew closer, the hospital released a new statement saying that in the event of a strike, it would have to limit some of its services and focus on patients with the highest level of need.