June 30, 2006

Children´s Hospital workers plan to picket

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

They provide excellent services to children hospitalized at Children’s Hospital San Diego, yet they themselves in many can’t afford health insurance.

They have devoted their careers to the health of children in San Diego, yet they can barely support their own children.

They give so much, yet receive so little.

They’re the nursing assistants, housekeepers, food service workers, clerical employees, maintenance workers and other hospital workers who serve the children and families of our community at Children’s Hospital San Diego.

For two years, these workers have been trying to negotiate a contract with the hospital’s top-level administration to no success.

Workers are demanding higher minimum wages, more affordable health insurance, and job security, said Lucila Conde, a translator at Children´s Hospital and one of the most outspoken workers in the matter.

This week again, the Service Employee´s International Union (SEIU), which represents the workers, didn’t reach an agreement. Workers are ready to hold picket lines in front of the hospital very soon, said Vaishalee Raja, a representative for SEIU United Health Workers.

“Negotiations have stalled as of right now,” she said Wednesday night. “Management has refused to compromise on our key issues, and workers are preparing to picket. They [workers] will decide in the upcoming days whether they will picket or not.”

She added that about 40 percent of the Union´s bargaining unit is Latino.

La Prensa San Diego contacted Tom Hanscom, the hospital´s spokesperson, and he said he was going to try to get an interview or a statement from hospital executives. Until deadline, he didn´t respond to several messages and e-mails.

Conde said that better wages are one of the main points they´re demanding.

A recent study by the Center on Policy Initiatives found that more than half of the clerical, service, and maintenance employees at the hospital earned less than the self-sufficiency wage for a single adult in San Diego ($13.20 per hour).

In addition, wages for nursing assistants, food service workers, and housekeepers at Children´s Hospital are 14-47 percent below whose at surrounding hospitals.

“We´re being exploited,” Conde said.

Another aspect is health insurance. Children´s Hospital employees must pay anywhere from $200 to $624 per month for access to family health insurance. According to the same CPI study, nearly 40% of employees are either uninsured, rely on Medi-Cal or Medicaid, or purchase insurance from elsewhere because they can´t afford Children´s health plans.

“It´s ironic that we work at a children´s hospital and when our children get sick we can´t take them there because we can´t afford to pay the fees,” Conde said.

The union workers created a DVD documentary where they expose the unfair working conditions they are experiencing. They sent the DVD to several donors who since then have not contributed to the hospital.

For two years, workers have asked the hospital to adopt a ser of proposals to bring them closer to industry standards, including a minimum wage of $10 an hour, wage increases that recognize and reward experience, and affordable family health insurance.

Again this week, on Wednesday, the hospital refused to reach an agreement.

The following day, Thursday, the hospital announced it received a $60 million donation to expand its facilities and programs.

“Hospital executives say they have no money to raise our wages, but they give themselves pretty heavy raises,” Conde said.

She said that she´s worked at Children´s as a interpreter for almost two years and makes only $14.58 an hour, much less that if she worked as an interpreter for the courts.

Conde said that the workers are ready to hold an informational picket line, where they will let the community know about their situation.

Return to the Frontpage