A group of workers from Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital’s patient care workers union Tuesday presented an open letter at City Hall asking the city to support their cause amid a monthslong negotiation with administration at Henry Mayo over a new contract.
A group of 10 to 15 union members came to the City Council meeting to voice their concerns about how staffing levels and high turnover can impact patient care at the hospital and asked the council to sign an open letter to new Henry Mayo CEO Ken Klockenga. This month, Klockenga replaced former CEO Roger Seaver, who retired after leading the Santa Clarita Valley’s only hospital for almost 22 years.
A union official said Tuesday that a recent lack of progress is why its membership is asking for help from “a third party.” While the Santa Clarita City Council has no jurisdiction over the hospital, council members pledged $2 million in support to a capital-fundraising campaign for the hospital last month.
Representatives from the hospital continue to challenge the union’s characterization of their talks, noting their conversations are ongoing. The hospital also disputed the union’s claims that the situation has impacted patient care.
“So, the negotiations have not been super-productive lately,” said Matthew Soliz, field organizer for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America, in a phone interview ahead of Tuesday’s protest. “We’ve had somewhat of a breakdown between us and the hospital, and we haven’t been able to get closer to a deal … in a couple of weeks.”
Recently, the two sides came close to terms, according to Stacy Suarez, a surgical tech at the hospital, who spoke to The Signal during a one-day strike the union held March 20.
While the negotiations have been ongoing since November, and the union has been working off an expired contract since the end of January, Henry Mayo administrators disputed the union’s characterization of the status of the two sides’ negotiation.
“We don’t know why the UE would say talks had ‘broken down,’” said Patrick Moody, a spokesman for the hospital. “We have a bargaining session scheduled on Thursday. We look forward to that session and we hope we can come to an agreement.”
The letter states it’s written on behalf of more than 700 members of UE Local 1004, and contends that “low wages lead to high turnover and burnt-out workers, hurting the quality of patient care. In order to ensure the highest quality of patient care and safety, the hospital must invest in these essential workers.”
Hospital officials, for their part, contended Tuesday that the highest-quality patient care is always the hospital’s focus.
“This has not been affected in any way by this labor dispute,” Moody added. “Those kinds of accusations by the union serve no useful purpose.”
City Councilman Cameron Smyth, who’s also an executive for a national health care provider, pointed out prior to the meeting there was nothing the city could do Tuesday without first agendizing an item.
He planned to hear out the union’s concerns though, he said, because of the vital role the hospital plays in the community.
“I will certainly listen to the concerns that are to be raised and we obviously cannot take any action on items not on the agenda, but certainly it is critical for our community that our hospital employees feel that they are supported and have a place to work where the support is there,” he said, “and that’s equally important for our residents, that the staff at the hospital is treated in the best possible manner.”