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NUHW membership at USC tops 2,000 with organizing victories at Verdugo Hills Hospital

While NUHW-represented workers at Keck Medicine of USC have been winning strong contracts that improve wages and benefits, their counterparts at USC’s Verdugo Hills Hospital have faced lower pay, poorer benefits, and less job security without the power of a union.

But that will change after approximately 366 workers, who include medical technicians, licensed vocational nurses, respiratory therapists, certified nursing assistants, laboratory technicians, and unit secretaries at the hospital voted to join approximately 1,800 of their Keck-USC counterparts as NUHW members.

“This is a great step forward for our hospital, our patients and ourselves,” said Graciela Grace Hurtado, an ER Care Partner at the hospital. “We’ve seen what NUHW members can achieve withing the Keck-USC system, and now we’ll have the power to win better pay and working conditions, so we have a better-staffed hospital for our patients.”

The victory at Verdugo Hills came in the form of two successful elections — one by a tech unit followed by a larger service unit — and it continues a series of successful organizing drives throughout the Keck-USC system.

It also strengthens the power of NUHW members in the system’s flagship units as they prepare for contract bargaining to improve upon their previous agreement that raised wages between 11 and 39 percent for most workers with even bigger raises for workers at the universities call centers and clinics.

Life without a union

The workers at Verdugo Hills started organizing this year as it became clear they were falling behind their counterparts who had joined NUHW.

Valerina Shahmirzayans, an ultrasound tech at Verdugo Hills, said that she and her coworkers often have to work through their lunch hour because the hospital isn’t safely staffed and that their wage increases aren’t guaranteed and haven’t kept up with rising prices or the raises that NUHW members have been getting.

“We are overworked, underpaid, understaffed, and that’s a shame for USC,” Shahmirzayans said.

Growing stronger at Keck-USC

This has been a year of steady growth for NUHW within the Keck-USC system. In the past year workers at the Pasadena Lab, Alfred E. Mann School of Pharmacy, USC Downtown Clinic, USC Spine Center and the Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center have voted to join their colleagues as NUHW members.

University officials tried their hardest to stall the unionizing momentum at Verdugo Hills, going so far as to offer some workers managerial positions, but their tactics just made workers more determined to organize.

For Shahmirzayans, being part of NUHW means finally having a real voice in her workplace instead of just being an employee.

“I feel like all the hard work we put in paid off,” she said. “People are happy. Now we feel like we’re part of USC.”

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