HCA Healthcare, union contract agreement averts 3,000-worker hospital strike

Negotiators reached an accord Thursday morning and have now called off a 3,000-worker strike that would have affected five HCA hospitals in California, the union representing those workers announced.

The tentative agreement over contract terms will be voted on before being finalized in a ratification vote scheduled for later this month, Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) said in their announcements. 

Tentative terms for the new contract include "significant investments in the workforce and wage increases that will help retain experienced healthcare workers, including 15% raises over three years, and the agreement protects healthcare and education benefits for workers," the union said. 

SEIU-UHW said that the resulting retention of workers will help mitigate the short staffing and poor working conditions they said prompted the vote to strike.

“Healthcare workers are still dealing with trauma and burnout from the pandemic, and we’ve watched too many of our colleagues leave for better-paying jobs with less stress,” Xochitl Gonzalez, a patient care technician and union leader at Los Robles Medical Center, said in the announcement. “Reaching this agreement wasn’t easy but we stood together to advocate for worker and patient safety, improved staffing levels and fair wages and benefits that reflect the vital work we do every day.” 

Union workers at 5 California HCA hospitals vote to strike

May 15

About 3,000 union healthcare workers have authorized a strike for May 22 across five HCA Healthcare facilities in California, according to an announcement from their union released Friday afternoon.

The demonstrations are scheduled to run for five days at HCA Good Samaritan Hospital and HCA Regional Medical Center, both of which are in San Jose; HCA Los Robles Medical Center in Thousand Oaks; HCA West Hills Hospital in Los Angeles’ West Hills community; and HCA Riverside Community Hospital, per the announcement.

The vote by members of Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) was 97% in favor of the unfair labor practice strike, which will call for “good faith” bargaining between the workers and the major for-profit system on concerns related to short-staffing, low wages and worker safety. The union’s announcement also alleged “threats and intimidation” from HCA regarding the issues.

"We are prepared to strike because HCA cannot keep bargaining in bad faith and denying what we experience every day at our hospitals," Xochitl Gonzalez, a patient care technician at Los Robles Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, said in the union’s announcement. "I have never seen working conditions or patient care suffer more. But executives counting shares don't see that—they never have to look our patients in the face like we do."

The roughly 3,000 workers who will be striking hold various positions including emergency room technician, nursing assistant, lab tech, food service worker and transporter. The broader SEIU-UHW union represents more than 100,000 workers across California and is affiliated with the 2 million-member SEIU.

In a statement, HCA said “this decision by SEIU-UHW leadership is startling and entirely at odds with the progress we have made at the bargaining table, where we reached agreement on many contract issues … A strike benefits no one and may prevent our communities from having access to timely medical care.”

The system is also reportedly taking steps to maintain patients’ access to care should a five-day demonstration commence. Fierce Healthcare has reached out to HCA for confirmation and any additional comment.

SEIU-UHW backed its position in the strike announcement by citing survey data of its HCA-employed members, of whom 86% reported consistent understaffing, 78% reported insufficient time for proper patient care and 70% reported delays or denials of care due to short staffing. HCA has also been a target of the broader SEIU, which has published reports critical of the system’s staffing levels and patient outcomes.

In 2022, HCA reported $60.2 billion in revenue and $5.64 billion in net income attributable to the company. The latter was down from 2021’s $6.96 billion, reflecting volume disruptions and higher expenses—particularly labor expenses—faced by much of the hospital industry.

The for-profit has so far started 2023 out on a strong foot and already raised its full-year guidance for shareholders.