Since May 9, thousands of workers at Cedars-Sinai hospital have been out on strike over what they describe as low wages and unsafe working conditions. The strike comes as Cedars-Sinai negotiates a new contract with the union representing staff in maintenance, service and clinical support.
Workers with the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, which represents about 2,000 employees at Cedars-Sinai, voted overwhelmingly to authorize the strike on April 9. Cedars-Sinai employs about 14,000 workers in total. The strike is scheduled to end on May 12.
“We are very frustrated that despite us risking our lives to deliver world-class healthcare for our patients, management at Cedars-Sinai has not bargained in good faith and continues to commit unfair labor practices. Management doesn’t seem to take patient or worker safety seriously,” Luz Oglesby, a clinical partner at Cedars-Sinai, said in a statement.
The strike does not include physicians and nurses. It extends to workers such as certified nursing assistants, transporters, environmental services, plant operations, surgical technicians – who prepare operating rooms and assist with procedures – and foodservice technicians. The union has accused Cedars-Sinai of negotiating in bad faith – an accusation also leveled at the union by the hospital.
“In our latest round of bargaining, Cedars-Sinai rejected our proposals on PPE stockpiles, COVID exposure notifications, keeping pregnant and immunocompromised workers away from COVID patients, and other safety measures,” Oglesby said. “We’re asking for basic workplace protections and respect for the lives and health of caregivers and patients.”
The union has pointed to multiple state fines to support its case for improving working conditions and patient safety, including a $75,000 fine issued to the healthcare provider by the California Department of Public Health over the 2021 death of an ICU patient and a $97,000 fine for Cal/OSHA related to COVID-19 mitigation measures.
Cedars-Sinai Chief Human Resources Officer Andy Ortiz said that the hospital was “really disappointed with the union,” claiming that the union was threatening to strike before “we even provided a full offer on the table.”
“We have a very long relationship with them. For the last 35 years, we have achieved agreement on 11 different agreements,” Ortiz said in a statement.
According to Ortiz, Cedars-Sinai had offered a 16% increase over the next three years. Representatives for the union have said that the 16% increase would not apply evenly to all workers under the plan put forward by management.
Cedars-Sinai President and CEO Tom Priselac addressed the union’s claims in an open letter, pointing to the hospital’s plaudits for patient care.
“Cedars-Sinai has consistently earned five stars from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services–the highest rating from the federal government and an honor earned by just 14 percent of U.S. hospitals surveyed,” he said.
Gidget Ridgell, a surgical technician who assists on heart transplants, has worked at Cedars-Sinai for nine years and feels like the hospital takes her and her fellow members for granted.
“We are the world record holder for heart transplants 11 years in a row. They didn’t break those world records without us,” she told the Courier.
Other employees stressed the hardship the pandemic had placed on them and said that Cedars-Sinai had not done enough to compensate for the extra work.
“We’re committed to giving our patients the best care possible but that gets harder as our workload increased significantly during the pandemic,” Jose Sanchez, a lead transporter, said in a statement. “We’re rushed, stressed out, and stretched thin, which causes longer wait times for patients and delays in care. They called us heroes during the worst of the COVID-19 crisis, but we never received any real recognition for those of us who put our safety and our families’ safety at risk.”
In a statement posted on May 11, Ortiz said that both sides had returned to the bargaining table.
“Both sides are engaged in positive, serious discussions, and we’re making real progress,” Ortiz said. “We’re determined to reach a fair, mutually beneficial agreement so that we can reward our represented employees for the important roles that they play in helping the medical center serve the community.”
Ortiz added that the hospital remained fully staffed and functional “thanks to the dedicated employees and supplemental workers who are stepping up in big ways to meet our patients’ needs.”
While hundreds of union workers have stationed themselves along the picket lines outside of the medical center, some had planned on protesting the annual Cedars-Sinai Spring Luncheon and Fabulous Fashion Show at The Maybourne Beverly Hills. The event, however, was canceled at the last minute.
“Instead of throwing lavish fashion shows at swanky hotels, Cedars-Sinai needs to address patient safety, invest in their workforce, and reach a fair compromise on wages with their employees,” SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West President Dave Regan said.