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Keck-USC workers refuse to be silenced

After two months of contract negotiations, the nearly 2,000 NUHW members at Keck Medicine of USC sent a strong message that they won’t put up with the university trying to take away their benefits or their right to advocate for patients.

With the university already under fire for canceling its May 10 commencement after refusing to allow a valedictorian to speak, NUHW members rallied to warn that USC officials were also trying to limit their speech.

Under the banner of “USC, Don’t Silence Me,” hundreds of workers marched and chanted with community allies outside Keck Hospital of USC.

“We’re on the front lines caring for our community,” said Monitor Tech Rudy Castaneda. “We sacrifice a lot to be available for patients, so it’s insulting to see management come up with proposals that would take away our rights and limit our opportunities for advancement.”

During frequent bargaining sessions over the past two months, NUHW members made proposals that would close wage gaps at Keck-USC facilities, and help the hospital system address a growing understaffing crisis.

Workers organized the May 10 rally after Keck-USC management responded with a series of proposals that would make it even harder for the university to safely staff its hospitals, including:

  • Granting management the right to subcontract out union jobs throughout the medical system. 
  • Eliminating the free HMO health plan workers have to insure their families.
  • Removing job protections if Keck-USC transfers ownership of any facility.
  • Restricting the rights of workers to meet with their union organizers at university facilities.

Additionally, the university is seeking to prohibit workers from taking direct action, such as an informational picket line or public leafleting, to inform community members of patient care issues inside their hospitals.

“Management doesn’t want us exercising our right to speech,” said Denise Hernandez, an office coordinator. 

NUHW members at Keck-USC have successfully fought off takeaways in the past, and several local community leaders told workers that they would stand with them in this fight.

“Each and every one of you is struggling to put food on the table… and they are here trying to cut your jobs and take your rights away,” said Mark Gonzalez, who’s running for the State Assembly in the district that includes the university. “That’s what corporations do, and USC should be ashamed.” 

Ysabel Jurado, a candidate for LA City Council, lauded the caregivers as the “backbone of our healthcare industry.”

“We know what it’s like to be exploited,” he said. “And that’s why we’re here to say cuando nos juntamos, ganamos (when we unite, we win).”

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