Update Dec. 4: Strike vote complete. See below.
More than a dozen employees from the San Francisco Post Acute Center, a 53-bed nursing home in the Outer Mission, picketed on Tuesday morning with signs that read, “Patients over profits!” and “Under-staffing our hospital puts our patients at risk!”
The workers at 5767 Mission St., close to the Daly City border, say the company that owns the facility, Providence Group Inc., is making millions of dollars at this facility — but is paying the caregivers of its elderly clientele close to minimum wage.
The employees are members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, and are currently negotiating for higher pay and better benefits. Organizer Alexandra Early said the owners had been in the black every year since buying the facility in 2015, posting a $1.8 million profit in 2017. But Providence had only increased salaries by 3 percent in that time.
For most of the caregivers at the facility, said longtime caregiver Luz David, a 3 percent increase only puts them slightly above the city’s minimum wage of $15.59 an hour. This, workers say, is not enough to make it here in San Francisco — even working many hours a week.
David said that there is a high turnover rate for employees, and that some new hires don’t even make it past the initial orientation. She blames low wages and health benefits that have high deductibles and copays.
“Last night, they called me at two in the morning and asked me to work a night shift,” David said. “We have no staff. Even the licensed vocational nurses, after probation, they’re gone. All because of wages.”
Another employee, Juanita Ulloa, has been working at the facility for 16 years. She said that when she began working as a certified nursing assistant, the former owner of the facility cared for the patients and the staff. But when he retired, Providence bought the facility and the quality of care fell. Instead of caring for longterm patients, the facility has prioritized short term clients, like seniors who just had surgery, to maximize profits from MediCal and Medicare.
Ulloa said that if she needed to go to Kaiser and get medication, she would easily spend at least $100 for medicine and hundreds more for a visit. That never happened until Providence changed the health plan.
“We work hard with the patients; we’re the ones taking care of them,” Ulloa said in Spanish. “One X-ray is $85, and pain medicine is at least $150. In one whole hospital visit, we’ll end up spending our entire check.”
The facility’s administrator, Robert Pierce, did not comment on the workers’ protest. Providence instead gave Mission Local a written statement, which reads:
“We believe that the union’s action is unnecessary, and potentially disruptive to the quality care we provide our residents each and every day. We hope that the union will focus more on presenting proposals designed to reach a fair and competitive agreement, and less actions like this which do not advance the interests of this facility, its employees or its residents.”
Supervisor Ahsha Safai, who represents District 11, picketed alongside the workers. He hoped that the two sides would reach a negotiated agreement soon.
“This is a company that’s making a lot of money,” he said. “They have to invest in their workforce. Their workforce is here taking care of our most vulnerable seniors, and they deserve dignity and respect.”
Early said that union members would be voting on their options later on Tuesday — including a possible strike that could happen as soon as next month.
Update, Dec. 4:
Union organizer Alexandra Early confirmed to Mission Local that members voted on Tuesday evening to authorize a strike if bargaining meetings fall short. Early said that of the workers from the facility that voted, 95 percent voted in favor of striking.
The vote gives authority to the union’s bargaining committee to call a strike against San Francisco Post Acute Center, which could happen either in December 2019 or January 2020.
But Early said a lot can happen until then, and Providence Group and the union are still negotiating. They have a bargaining session scheduled Dec. 10.
“We’re hoping that the picket made a point,” she said in a phone call.
Providence’s full statement:
“We have been notified that the National Union Workers (NUHW), which represents certain employees at this facility, will be conducting informational picketing here on December 3.
The parties have been in negotiations for a new contract for several months. Those negotiations continue, with our next session set for December 10.
The Union has expressed concerns about some of the proposals that the Employer has made during negotiations. Similarly, we have concerns about many of the union’s proposals. Regardless, the Employer is committed to continuing negotiations in a good faith effort to reach a new contract for our valued employees.
We believe that the union’s action is unnecessary, and potentially disruptive to the quality care we provide our residents each and every day. We hope that the union will focus more on presenting proposals designed to reach a fair and competitive agreement, and less actions like this which do not advance the interests of this facility, its employees or its residents.”
These people do hard and demanding work that few others can do. They deserve a large raise and restored health benefits. $20 – $25/hour would still be a bargain for Providence. These workers should use their market power and strike if they need to. It will benefit patients in the long run to have decently paid professionals looking after them.