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Hospital Workers Launch 4-Day Strike

Labor: The pickets are protesting pay and staffing levels at Queen of Angels facility.

June 19, 2002|NERISSA PACIO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

About 300 health care employees and community members protesting low wages and understaffed crews at Queen of Angels-Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center launched a four-day strike Tuesday, the second walkout in three weeks.

Nurses, respiratory therapists, lab technicians and supporters from Service Employees International Union, Local 399 gathered in front of the hospital Tuesday morning, holding "On Strike for Safe Staffing" signs. But the protesters quickly disbanded after television news cameras left.

Hospital administrators said 140 employees out of 1,200 walked out Tuesday and will return to work Saturday.

Union representatives said their biggest concern is a staffing shortage, which they said endangers patients' lives.

"Sometimes we'll only have one nurse for eight patients," said Tessie Fajilan, a registered nurse in the pediatric unit who has worked at the hospital for 21 years. "Babies will be screaming while the only nurse is on the phone or giving another patient his meds."

"We're all human beings," said Rith Chhun, a neonatal respiratory therapist who has worked at the hospital for five years.

"There's no respect or dignity here," Chhun said. "When we work these hours our acuity level and decision-making skills deteriorate."

Administrators at the 434-bed medical center said it abides by state staffing requirements, which, until they are expanded next year, are mandated only for critical care and neonatal units.

For now, the hospital has increased its recruiting efforts and has flown in out-of-state staff to cover the striking employees, said Julie Jatico, director of the hospital emergency room.

"Every hospital is going through a nursing shortage in California," said David Langness, spokesman for Tenet HealthSystem, which owns Queen of Angels and is the country's second-largest commercial hospital chain. "There's intensive competition for nurses out of nursing school."

After the union's contract expired May 13, members voted to reject the hospital's last offer of an 11% pay increase over three years and more health benefit subsidies.

Union representatives are asking for a 7% increase for a one-year contract and a more affordable health insurance package.

Two weeks ago, the hospital suspended 17 nurses who called in sick the day before the first walkout.

The union has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board against the hospital for retaliation and intimidation.

Two of the nurses have since resigned and the case is pending, said Gregory Monette, a hospital spokesman.

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