Cedars-Sinai employees to picket over COVID-19 safety violations – San Bernardino Sun

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center workers plan to picket the Los Angeles facility Wednesday, April 20 to protest workplace violations they say have put them at risk amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

State health and safety regulators fined Cedars $97,700 last year for seven citations that were in violation of Cal/OSHA regulations aimed at protecting workplace safety.

Four of the citations were classified as “serious” health and safety violations related to COVID-19 prevention.

The more than 2,000 workers at Cedars, represented by SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, voted overwhelmingly last week to authorize an unfair labor practice strike in May, although an official notification has yet to be sent to hospital management.

Employees claim they are understaffed, underpaid and dealing with inadequate pandemic protections. Their previous contract expired March 31.

Cedars didn’t address the OSHA violations. But in a statement issued Tuesday, the hospital said it provided free lodging to employees during the pandemic to help ensure the safety of their families, as well as reimbursement and reduced rates for backup childcare and adult/elder care.

The hospital said it also provided pay protection for workers whose hours were affected by the pandemic.

Cedars said picketing and other union-related activities distract from the work that needs to be done at the bargaining table.

“On the first day of bargaining, March 21, Cedars-Sinai presented the union with a strong economic proposal, which would have provided pay increases to bargaining unit employees as early as March 27,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, the union rejected our offer — without asking its 2,000 members, who account for 13% of Cedars-Sinai’s workforce.”

Jose Sanchez, a lead transporter and chief union steward at Cedars, said the hospital’s most recent labor proposal includes a raise of $1 to $1.50 an hour. The current minimum wage for workers at Cedars is a little over $17 an hour.

“Target and some of the fast-food places pay a lot more than that,” the 42-year-old Huntington Park resident said. “We believe employees should start at $25 an hour.”

Willie Gladney, a housekeeping worker and union steward at Cedars, said the lax COVID-19 protocols have been all too real.

“They have repeatedly been negligent in not posting signs for COVID-positive patients,” the 48-year-old Los Angeles resident said. “There have also been times when they said we didn’t have to wear N95 masks. They said surgical masks were enough, but we know that’s not true.”

The serious OSHA violations include:

— A failure to immediately report the serious illness of several workers who contracted COVID-19, including one who was hospitalized and three others who later died

— A failure to maintain an adequate exposure-control plan to protect employees who are at increased risk of contracting certain airborne infections due to their work activities

— A failure to provide the required training to auxiliary staff with occupational exposure to COVID-19

— A failure to use feasible engineering and work-practice controls to minimize the exposure of auxiliary staff, nurses and certified nursing assistants in the hospital’s fourth-floor breakroom

SEIU-UHW President Dave Regan said the violations have put employees and patients at risk.

“Our union will continue to fight for safe working conditions for hospital workers who have continuously put their lives on the line during this pandemic,” he said.

Sanchez said the low starting wage, combined with the risks workers encounter in dealing with COVID-19 patients, causes many prospective hires to turn down work at the hospital, Sanchez said.

“We have hundreds of patients to transport a day, and if we’re short-staffed it creates delays getting them to their procedures and delays getting them discharged and admitted,” he said. “We’re rushed, stressed out and stretched thin.”

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