Hospital workers in Santa Rosa hold 5-day strike over pay during coronavirus pandemic

Hundreds of workers at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital began a five-day strike this morning. The workers on strike include nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, dietary aides, housekeepers and medical technicians - as many as 700 essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic.

The workers have been without a cotnract for a year.

Negotiations between the National Union of Healthcare Workers and Memorial hospital management have broken down. Federal mediators have been brought in.

"We put ourselves on the front lines every day," said Taylor Davison, a patient-access emergency room registration worker. "They're [management] are failing us right now."

The dispute is over pay, health care premiums and paid time off. Union members say people with the most seniority would lose P-T-O days, under the latest contract proposal from the hospital. They are also upset that their health care premiums would go up about 25-percent, and said the 3-percent per year raise over four years does not cover the rising cost of living. 

St. Joseph Health Sonoma County CEO Tyler Hedden said the hospital's offer is generous.

"During this economic environment, people are losing their jobs. We are going to be impacted in our business operations from people losing their health care insurance," Hedden said the same offer has already been accepted by union workers at Petaluma Valley and Queen of the Valley hospitals in Petaluma and Napa.

But workers don't see it that way. 

"The hospital is making a ton of profits," said anesthesiology technician, Steven Batson. "If the hospital doesn't take care of us, the caregivers, we can't take care of our patients. It's ridiculous that Providence decides to spend their money on risky investments, hedge funds, wall street, rather than investing in their health care workers and patients."

The corporate parent of Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, St. Joseph Providence, received a half a billion dollars in COVID stimulus money from the federal government this year. Hedden said that money kept the hospitals afloat in the early days of the pandemic when protective gear was needed, and elective procedures and surgeries were canceled.

"At this point, it feels like the management team is using the pandemic against us, to make sure we stay in our jobs," said ER registration worker, Davison.

Santa Rosa Memorial is the North Bay's only trauma hospital. Its emergency room will remain open during the five-day strike. The hospital hired replacement workers to replace the people on strike.

Some non-emergency appointments at the hospital may be rescheduled during the strike.