Update: Strike postponed at multiple HCA hospitals

Union members decided to postpone a planned one-day strike at five Hospital Corporation of America (NYSE: HCA) hospitals in California and return to the bargaining table, according to a press release the SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West (SEIU-UHW) issued this afternoon. The hospitals and the SEIU-UHW bargaining committee have agreed to continue negotiations with a federal mediator on Friday.

The strike will be postponed one week, until Friday, Dec. 10, according to SEIU-UHW spokesperson Lisa Hubbard.

This latest move represents an shift away from the earlier plan caregivers at  five HCA hospitals had to stage a 24-hour strike beginning at 6 a.m. on Dec. 3, according to the SEIU-UHW. More than 90 percent of the union members voted to take part in an unfair labor practice strike. The strikers would have included licensed vocational nurses, certified nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, X-ray technicians, housekeeping workers and staff members, the San Fernando Valley Business Journal reports.

About 2,700 SEIU-UHW members in five HCA hospitals have been trying to negotiate a contract with HCA, according to the union. It alleges that HCA managers have negotiated in bad faith, made unilateral changes that may jeopardize patient and worker safety and began a campaign to threaten and intimidate employees.

"We are so short-staffed that I recently ended up being a sitter for four patients," Fely Ta-a, a CNA at HCA Regional Medical Center, said in a statement.

The union alleges that HCA has unilaterally increased the number of patients per caregiver, changed job descriptions for housekeeping workers to require them to lift up to 80 pounds and removed protective gloves, masks and gowns from caregivers working in rooms where a patient was isolated due to contagious illness. The union also claims that HCA consistently bargained in bad faith by failing to provide relevant information and by showing up to pre-scheduled bargaining sessions late or for just a few minutes.

Beverly Gilmore, president and CEO of West Hills Hospital & Medical Center told the San Fernando Valley Business Journal that her managers had not engaged in unfair practices or employee intimidation, nor had alleged staff and policy changes taken place at her hospital. Still, she called the union uncooperative.

"There hasn't really been a discussion," she said. "We made a proposal and then they walked away from the discussion."

The union represents caregivers at all five HCA hospitals in California: Good Samaritan Hospital and Regional Medical Center, both in San Jose; Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks; Riverside Community Hospital in Riverside; and West Hills Hospital & Medical Center in West Hills.

HCA, is owned by the private equity firm KKR, but may go public in the future with an initial public offering (IPO), something that market watchers have predicted since the healthcare reform passed this past spring.

To learn more:
- read the first press release and second press release from the SEIU-UHW
- here's the San Fernando Valley Business Journal article
- read the Southwest Riverside News Network article

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