2,000 Cedars-Sinai Medical Center workers launch five-day strike

Updated on May 9, 10:30 a.m.

Early this morning Cedars-Sinai Medical Center workers kicked off a five-day strike calling attention to what they described as unfair labor practices, employee and patient safety concerns, short-staffing and low wages.

Service Employees Union International-United Healthcare Workers West, which represents about 2,000 of the hospital's 14,000 workers, had announced their plans to walk off the job in an April 29 announcement.

The announcement highlighted the medical center's downgrade to a "D" rating from hospital safety watchdog The Leapfrog Group and noted that union members already held a picket protest in April after Cedars-Sinai was dinged by regulators for multiple workplace safety violations.

“We are very frustrated that despite us risking our lives to deliver word-class healthcare for our patients, management at Cedars-Sinai has not bargained in good faith and continues to commit unfair labor practices," Luz Oglesby, a clinical partner at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said in the union's strike announcement. "Management doesn’t seem to take patient or worker safety seriously.”

The strike began at 5 a.m. Monday, with NBC Los Angeles reporting that the union plans to maintain picket lines until 7 p.m. Friday unless a settlement is reached. 

"During lengthy bargaining sessions, it became clear to us that union leaders never intended to reach agreement with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on a new contract without a strike," Thomas M. Priselac, president and CEO of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, wrote in a letter to employees and the surrounding community. "This was made clearer to us over the weekend when the union broke off negotiations without ever responding to our latest offer and instead decided to proceed with its strike."

Priselac said the union represents roughly 14% of the medical center's employees. Nurses, physicians and researchers are not part of the union, he said, and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center plans to remain "open and fully operational" throughout the strike. 

Updated on May 2, 3:00 p.m.

Nurses at Stanford Health Care and Lucile Packard Children’s hospitals agreed to new three-year contracts following a strike that began a week ago, the union said Monday.

Nurses will return to work on Tuesday, according to their union, the Committee for the Recognition of Nursing Achievement (CRONA). Nearly 5,000 unionized nurses took to the picket line April 25 with demands for stronger wages, benefits and staffing.

The nurses had voted to authorize the open-ended strike earlier this month and stuck to their guns despite the health system's decision to withdraw health benefits for those striking. 

In a vote Sunday, 83% of CRONA’s nearly 5,000 members voted to approve the contracts, which will cover nurses at both hospitals. The new contracts offer safe staffing measures, across the board wage increases, improved access to mental health support, additional vacation time and measures to recruit and retain nurses for high acuity areas, the union said in a press release.

A representative of Stanford Health said the health system was pleased with the contact.

"After extensive discussions, we were able to reach a contract that reflects our shared priorities and enhances existing benefits supporting our nurses’ health, well-being, and ongoing professional development. We look forward to welcoming our union-represented nurses back tomorrow, Tuesday, May 3. We appreciate the incredible effort that our entire health care workforce put forward last week," health system officials said in a statement.

Worker unions are calling attention to the need for stronger wages and benefits amid alarming nationwide trends of nurse burnout and exhaustion and a shortfall of approximately 40,000 nurses in California alone. 

Labor disputes and union activity at California hospitals have been heating up.

Last week, members of a union representing 2,000 workers at Cedars-Sinai announced plans to strike on May 9. Service Employees Union International-United Healthcare Workers West members plan to walk out over unfair labor practices as well as employee and patient safety concerns, short-staffing and low wages, according to the union.

On March 21, Cedars-Sinai said it presented the union with an economic proposal that would have provided pay increases to workers as early as March 27. The union's contract with Cedars-Sinai ended March 31.

At Stanford Health, the nurses won wage increases of 7% in the first year of the contract, followed by two 5% increases in the second and third years; significant improvements to retiree medical benefits; and student loan assistance, according to the union. Nurses in units that are difficult to staff and require nurses to care for the most severely-ill patients — including emergency departments, intensive care units and critical care transport teams — will receive additional incentive pay.

"CRONA's new contracts represent an enormous victory for nurses at Stanford and Packard, who have been fighting tirelessly for improved work and patient care conditions. We have won improvements across all the priorities nurses identified at the beginning of our contract campaign," said Colleen Borges, president of CRONA and pediatric oncology nurse at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, in a statement.

"CRONA Nurses always knew our worth. We are glad the hospitals are finally acknowledging it now after a week-long strike that demonstrated how difficult it is to get nurses with the skills and experience that Stanford and Packard nurses bring to their patient care," Borges said.

A letter (PDF) from CRONA to Stanford and Packard’s boards of trustees, a version of which was published as a full-page advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle, noted the intense pressure of understaffed units and constant requests for overtime that were pushing as many as 45% of CRONA nurses to consider leaving the hospitals soon. In order to stem what would be a tremendous loss of talent, CRONA pushed for wages and benefits that will help recruit and retain nurses who are qualified to treat the high-acuity caseload at Stanford and Packard hospitals. 

The contracts also require a staffing model that incorporates patient acuity and commits the hospitals to changes that ensure nurses with severely ill patients are able to safely take meal and rest breaks, the union said.

Updated on April 25, 10:40 a.m.

Today roughly 5,000 Stanford Health and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford nurses will take to the picket line with demands for stronger wages, benefits and staffing, according to their union, the Committee for Recognition of Nursing (CRONA). 

The nurses had voted to authorize the open-ended strike earlier this month and stuck to their guns despite the health system's decision to withdraw health benefits for those striking. 

CRONA-represented nurses have been working without an active contract since the beginning of the month as the union and health system could not come to terms across three months and more than 30 bargaining sessions, according to a prior announcement.

“As one of the nation’s top healthcare systems, Stanford and Packard have an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and work with nurses to solve the burnout and exhaustion that is driving many of us to reconsider our jobs and our profession," Colleen Borges, president of CRONA and a pediatric oncology nurse at Packard Children’s Hospital, said in a statement. "We’ve been disappointed by hospital administrators’ consistent refusal to acknowledge the reality of understaffing: constant requests for overtime, little time for rest with our families and insufficient support for our mental health.

“A strike has always been the last resort for CRONA nurses, but we are prepared to stand strong and make sacrifices today for the transformative changes that the nursing profession needs. We hope to get back to work quickly under fair contracts that acknowledge nurses’ contributions and support excellent patient care,” she said.

The union and the health system are scheduled to resume bargaining on Tuesday, according to CRONA. Other proposals from the union include anti-bias traning for managers, student loan reimbursements and mental health and wellness support.

Updated on April 20, 10:45 a.m.

Union nurses who participated in a one-day strike across several Sutter Health locations have been locked out of work through the end of the week, according to reports from the San Francisco Chronicle and others. 

In statements provided to media, Sutter Health said it had brought on and guaranteed five days of work to replacement workers who maintained services through the demonstrations. 

The California Nurses Association, which represented the striking workers, had said Monday it expected more than 8,000 registered nurses to participate in the one-day walkout, which addressed safer staffing, pandemic-related protections such as personal protective equipment stockpiling and other pay-related contract negotiations. 

The union described Sutter's decision to bar the nurses from returning to work until Saturday morning "a completely unnecessary and vindictive anti-union move," according to the Chronicle. The group called for Sutter to allow nurses previously scheduled to work this week to return and receive their anticipated pay. 

In a statement released during Monday's strike, Sutter Health said that union leadership's decision to move forward with the "costly and disruptive" demonstrations "put politics above patients and the nurses they represent."

Unions OK labor demonstrations at Cedars-Sinai, Stanford, Sutter

Nurses and healthcare workers across several prominent California health systems have signed off on labor strikes calling for higher pay, safer staffing levels and other workplace precautions.

Monday, SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) announced that more than 2,000 members working at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center had voted to authorize a walk-off tentatively scheduled for May.

These certified nursing assistants, surgical technicians, environmental services staff, transporters and other workers voted 93% in favor of the demonstrations with demands that “no one at this incredibly wealthy institution be paid less than $25 an hour” and that rates keep up with inflation, according to a spokesperson with the union.

A release announcing the vote also cited “inadequate staffing, patient and worker safety concerns” among the topics of the bargaining.

The workers plan to announce the tentative date of the strike during an informal picket at the medical center scheduled for April 20, the representative said.

“It’s shameful that right here in Beverly Hills, healthcare workers are struggling to support their families on $17 an hour. Yet, Cedars-Sinai pays its executives millions,” Yudis Cruz, a certified nursing assistant at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said in a statement. “Cedars should invest more in their low-wage frontline caregivers and less in highly paid executives that rarely interact with patients.”

In a statement to Fierce Healthcare, Cedars-Sinai said the union's strike vote "is premature because negotiations for a new contract have barely started."

The organization said it made an initial offer to roll over the existing contract and implement "substantial" pay increases averaging over 15% over three years. Cedars-Sinai said the union rejected the offer "without asking its members" and that there have only been two bargaining sessions held in the time since. 

"Cedars-Sinai has maintained strong working relationships with our SEIU-UHW-represented employees for years, and we are committed to strengthening those bonds," Cedars-Sinai said in the statment. "We look forward to continuing our discussions with SEIU-UHW to finalize a new contract."

Cedars-Sinai's statement highlighted the 10% growth of employees represented by SEIU-UHW since the last contract period and the hospital's pandemic-era workforce efforts, such as a $2 per hour minimum wage increase and a "thank you" bonus to all employees. 

The union's announcement, meanwhile, pointed to Cedars-Sinai's $1 billion-plus in reported 2021 profits and the nearly $40 million paid to the hospital's top 15 executives in its release.

SEIU-UHW’s announcement comes just days after news of parallel labor activity at Stanford Health Care.

Thursday, about 5,000 nurses working at Stanford hospitals and represented by the Committee for Recognition of Nursing Achievement (CRONA) similarly authorized a strike with 93% of the eligible vote, according to a Friday release.

The nurses have been working without an active contract since the beginning of the month as the union and health system could not come to terms across three months and more than 30 bargaining sessions, according to the announcement. The union is said to be seeking wage increases, stay-on bonuses, greater staffing levels, anti-bias training for managers and several other benefits across medical coverage, wellness support and vacation.

"What message does it send when Stanford and Packard hospitals have hundreds of millions on hand from federal pandemic relief, and nurses are consistently taking on overtime and denying ourselves rest and recovery because the hospitals are not staffed adequately?" Colleen Borges, president of CRONA and a pediatric oncology nurse, said in a union statement.

"We have been working extra shifts and powering through exhausting conditions because our patients and our colleagues need us. We need the hospitals' executives to show up for us," she said.

CRONA’s leadership has not yet announced whether it will move ahead and officially call for a strike. The union is required to provide the hospitals at least 10 days' notice before any demonstrations.

CRONA and the Stanford hospitals met with a federal mediator April 4 and April 8.

In a statement provided to the press, Stanford Health Care and its Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital said they hoped common ground would come prior to a strike.

“We are committed, through good faith bargaining, to reach agreement on new contracts that provide nurses a highly competitive compensation package, along with proposals that further our commitment to enhancing staffing and wellness benefits for nurses,” the hospitals said. “Now, as we take the necessary and precautionary steps to prepare for the possibility of a strike, we hope that CRONA chooses to instead focus its efforts on working with us toward contract agreements.”

Elsewhere across Northern California, nurses and other healthcare workers at 15 Sutter Health facilities announced a one-day strike being held on April 18 protesting the system’s “refusal to address their proposals about safe staffing and health and safety protections,” the California Nurses Association and its affiliate Caregivers and Healthcare Employees Union shared late last week.

The system’s nurses had authorized a strike during a March vote, with the union groups noting that contract negotiations have been ongoing since June 2021. The nurses and workers have already provided Sutter Health advance notice of the demonstration.

“We are striking because Sutter is not transparent about the stockpile of [personal protective equipment] supplies and contact tracing,” Renee Waters, a trauma neuro intensive care registered nurse, said in a statement from the unions. “They resist having nurses directly involved in planning and implementation of policies that affect all of us during a pandemic. We must address these issues and more.

“A fair contract is needed to retain experienced nurses, have sufficient staffing and training, and ensure we have the resources we need to provide safe and effective care for our patients. Nurses are fighting back against Sutter putting profits before patients and health care workers,” she said.