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Poised to strike, workers win big raises at Anaheim hospital

Workers who joined their colleagues at West Anaheim Medical Center as NUHW members last year overwhelmingly approved their first union contract in August. The three-year agreement includes 26 percent average wage increases, higher pay for working nights and weekends, and a guarantee of free healthcare for all staff.

Following an informational picket and facing the threat of a strike by nearly 200 nursing assistants, housekeepers, EMTs, food service workers, and pharmacy and lab technicians, West Anaheim management relented after weeks of minimal progress on economic issues and offered acceptable terms.

The new contract gives Jamie Curiel, a pharmacy tech who spearheaded last year’s unionizing drive, the resources to plan for the future and secure her U.S. citizenship.

“I plan to put money aside to get married and start saving money to start the process to stay in this country,” said Curiel, a Dreamer who was brought to the U.S. as a three-year-old.

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. NUHW had already secured strong contracts for medical technicians at the hospital, leading to the nearly 200 service workers voting to join last December.

The newest NUHW members held a picket earlier this year and were ready to strike over the hospital’s refusal to offer terms that were on par with their colleagues who already had a union contract. Research showed that the workers made less than $48,000 per year and that 57 percent of them had left the hospital since the beginning of 2021, which workers attributed to the hospital’s poverty wages.

The agreement includes a 15-step wage scale that will guarantee annual raises for most workers, a $2,000 educational reimbursement and the creation of a worker-management patient care committee that can discuss safety, health and patient care concerns.

“I feel empowered,” said Housekeeper Marta Baltazar about the process that led to the contract. “I learned a lot about politics and that I have power and not be afraid of management.”

Baltazar has been working at WAMC for four years, but her husband Jose has spent 45 years working in the Dietary department, only earning $20.94. They work separate shifts and only see each other for short periods of time during the day, and sometimes not at all.

For Marta, the new contract is “going to make a lot of difference” and represents a “great victory” that only came because of the threat of a strike.

“They (management) were afraid. I can’t imagine a day without the trash and the linen being picked up, or the laboratories and pharmacy not open,” she said.

She already has plans for the additional money she’ll get in her paycheck.

“I’m going to put it aside for a year to go on vacation,” she said.

It’s the only way she and her husband can get quality time together.

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