When heroes organize | Notes on the Valley | Monith Ilavarasan | DanvilleSanRamon.com |


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By Monith Ilavarasan

When heroes organize

Uploaded: Apr 27, 2022

Throughout the COVID pandemic health care workers have been called heroes. There were stories written about them in the paper, there were signs posted in yards thanking them, and frontline workers were even honored at the Super bowl.

While our rhetoric hailed them as heroes, the truth is they were treated as superhuman robots. They were tasked to take on more patients, pushed to use less time to administer care, and saw limited to no increase in time off or compensation. This has led to large scale burnout amongst frontline workers and frustration amongst those we trust to administer care to our community.

The trend across many industries throughout the past 40 years has been to keep worker wages and hiring stagnant as much as possible, bulk up savings for the company, and give out large bonuses for management.

Health care has not been immune to these trends. A report published in 2018 by Clinical Orthopedics and Related Research showed healthcare executives such as CEOs and CFOs recieved pay increases of more than 90% over 10 years. Other health professionals generally saw increases of 10 to 20%.

These major hospitals have also seen record profits over the past year. Sutter has recorded operating income of $104 million in the third quarter of 2021. At Stanford revenues at the two striking hospitals exceeded expenses by $845 million, compared to $107 million in 2020. Kaiser has seen their operating revenue and profits grow over the past decade, an increase of members enrolled in health care plans, and has amassed $44.5 billion in cash reserves.

To keep up with this massive growth, management has pushed their employees to do more with less which has often resulted in reduced quality of patient care. Nurses, technicians, rehab therapists, and other frontline workers are smart and talented enough to work any kind of job. Yet they chose to work in health care because of their deep care for fellow humans and their passion for ensuring we live the best lives we can.

Last Monday 8,000 nurses across 15 Sutter hospitals went on a one day strike to draw attention to their working conditions. This Monday over 5,000 nurses at Stanford hospitals went on strike with demands focusing on mental health, staffing, and benefits. Today 3,700 nurses at Tenet hospitals throughout California, including San Ramon Regional Medical Center, plan to hold informational pickets and public actions.

My partner is a speech language pathologist at Kaiser Permanente and we were preparing for a strike towards the end of last year. However, on Nov. 13th of last year her union and management at Kaiser Permanente reached a labor agreement. This was two days before nearly 32,000 workers throughout California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii were set to strike and one week before the rehabilitation therapists strike date.

One of the key reasons for union movement is that hiring has not kept pace with the massive increase in patients these organizations have seen. Health organizations claim that they cannot hire due to lack of funding and a desire to keep costs down for patients. However, executive pay increases and the record profits mentioned above do not align with these claims.

The pressure of a short staffed work environment leads to poor working conditions, reduced quality of patient care, a high level of burnout and turn over. Therefore there exists a constant struggle to hire, maintain, and grow a workforce that can meet the community's needs.

These factors have led to both new unionization efforts and more active participation within existing unions. Workers began to realize that enough was enough, and it was time to claim a seat at the table and bargain for their fellow workers as well as their patients.

Through their collective power, frontline workers have been able to win an increase in wages, maintain their benefits, and gain a stronger seat at the table. They are now also better able to discuss future improvements in delivering patient care. These outcomes increase the quality of life for our workers, their families, and patients and give hope for a brighter future.

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