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New NUHW members picket West Anaheim Medical Center over short staffing, poverty wages

Last December, nearly 200 nursing assistants, EMTs, housekeepers, food service workers, and pharmacy and lab technicians at West Anaheim Medical Center joined many of their colleagues as NUHW members to fight for better wages and safer staffing. On July 13, they held their first picket line, demanding fair treatment and an end to poverty wages that have contributed to many caregivers leaving for better-paying jobs.

The action was covered by the Orange County Register, Fullerton Observer and Estrella TV-62.

Although the Prime Healthcare-owned hospital reported a $21.7 million net profit in 2021, the last year for which data is available, it’s insisting on keeping salaries for many of the workers below $20 per hour.

The hospital is also refusing in contract negotiations to provide the newest NUHW members with the same benefits that existing NUHW members have already secured. Medical technicians at West Anaheim, who joined NUHW several years ago, receive an additional $2 per hour for working weekends and an additional $6 per hour for working nights. However, the hospital is refusing to provide the same benefits for nursing assistants, housekeepers and other newly unionized staff.

“Our jobs directly impact the care that patients receive, but management acts like our work isn’t important,” said Pharmacy Tech Jamie Curiel. “Because our hospital treats us as second-class, patients often find themselves waiting too long for care because of high turnover rates and unsafe staffing levels.”

West Anaheim Medical Center, is a 219-bed acute care hospital that is one of 25 hospitals in Orange County designated to receive emergency heart attack patients.

Low wages for the newly unionized workers has contributed to 57 percent of them leaving the hospital since the beginning of 2021. Despite the high turnover rate, the newly organized workers on average make less than $48,000 per year — far below the $62,591 annual salary required for a single childless wage earner in Orange County, according to the 2023 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Wage Calculator.

“We formed a union to fight for safe staffing. We have chronic turnover that results in understaffing the care for patients,” Curiel added. “Prime Healthcare makes a lot of money at West Anaheim Medical Center; we are demanding that they invest in staffing for the benefit of the patients.”

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