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560 Hospital Workers in Thousand Oaks Will Join Union

January 09, 2003|Jenifer Ragland | Times Staff Writer

About 560 licensed vocational nurses, certified nursing assistants, respiratory care practitioners, housekeepers and other employees at Los Robles Regional Medical Center will join with the hospital's registered nurses in the Service Employees International Union.

The move will enable the workers to negotiate for pay increases, retirement benefits and increased staffing, said Jennifer Kelly, a union spokeswoman.

Employees of the Thousand Oaks hospital needed a vote of more than 50% to unionize. In an election held Tuesday, 293 out of 560 staff members voted yes, Kelly said.

Lisa Goad, a secretary for the hospital's emergency room, was one. Until now, she said, employees had to fend for themselves in trying to get raises, improved benefits or better working conditions.

"It means that we actually have a voice," said Goad, a 10-year Los Robles employee. "It's such a great victory for all of us who feel like we have not been treated very fairly."

Los Robles spokeswoman Kris Carraway-Bowman said administrators believe they can best meet employees' needs without intervention from a third party. However, she said the hospital respects the workers' right to unionize.

"We plan to bargain in good faith with them," Carraway-Bowman said.

In the next few weeks, employees will elect co-workers to serve on a bargaining team and begin preparing to negotiate their first union contract. The team will include workers from every area of the hospital.

Goad said one priority will be to improve patient-to-staff ratios. "We're taking care of several communities here, and we're all overworked because of it," she said.

With their vote, Los Robles employees are joining the registered nurses, who unionized five years ago, and about 4,000 other staff members at hospitals owned by the Healthcare Co., the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain, Kelly said.

Service Employees International Union is the nation's largest union for health-care employees, with more than 755,000 members nationwide, she said.

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