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Members of SEIU-UHW lead a sympathy strike Thursday for biomedical engineers who walked off the job at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center Fresno. Photo by Breanna Hardy

published on November 18, 2021 - 2:51 PM
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Growing calls for negotiation have caused labor union Local 39 IUOE to go on strike. Friday marks week 10 of the strike.

On Thursday outside of Kaiser Permanente Fresno Medical Center, health care labor union SEIU-UHW is leading a sympathy strike for the biomedical engineers who walked off the job.

Melanie Reno, cyto-technologist at Kaiser Permanente Fresno, has been at the hospital for five years now. 

“We’re out here sympathy striking on behalf of Local 39. They’ve been out here for two months without a contract. Kaiser has just refused to come to the table with them and we’re out here because we believe an injury to one is an injury to all,” Reno said.

Not having these biomedical engineers in the hospital has the potential to put patients at risk.

“They play such a crucial role in our hospital – they fix everything,” she said. “We really need them in there and we need Kaiser to deliver them a fair contract because they deserve it, and they need to stop putting profits over people.” 

Beds and equipment have been broken, and operation flow has not been up to par in the midst of the strike because of the lack of experienced engineers, according to Reno. The engineers on strike know the equipment backward and forward and know how to take care of staff needs. 

“The guys that they bring in to replace them just don’t know what’s going on in there,” Reno said.

A spokesperson for Local 39, Jennifer Osborn, said the union has been in negotiations with Kaiser since July. In putting all the proposals on the table, the time was ticking down for Kaiser to act, she said. 

“Kaiser waited until the last day of the expiration of the contract, which was Sept. 17 to finally put economics on the table,” Osborn said. 

They brought the offer out to the membership to vote, and the union wasn’t satisfied with Kaiser’s negotiation. 

“Kaiser unfortunately has not bargained in good faith with us. We have unfair labor practice charges filed against them,” she said.

Wages have been a major sticking point. Osborn said they’re fighting for fair compensation.

“What they’re offering us – it’s significantly under industry standards. You go to different hospitals and check their wages and they’re making more than their engineers,” Osborn said. “So why would we put a contract out them that’s putting them under?”

She described them as the backbone of the facility because any piece of equipment is something their engineers handle – including any machinery patients are hooked up to. 

“I would not have any of my family members in there right now with the level of staffing that they have, because those people are not qualified engineers,” Osborn said. 

Kaiser Permanente released a statement yesterday, stating that it has been bargaining in good faith with Local 39. The union represents about 600 Kaiser operating engineers.

“Our proposals to Local 39 will keep our engineers among the best compensated in their profession,” Kaiser stated. 

Osborn said the union “wouldn’t be out here if that was the case.”

The health system said it would compensate the union workers at an average of more than $180,000 in total wages and benefits.

It said that after many bargaining hours on Tuesday and Wednesday, there is no progress on negotiations with Local 39. Kaiser officials said the union insists it receive as much as two times more than other union agreements covering Kaiser Permanente employees.

“If you refuse to come to the table and negotiate with us, you’re not bargaining in good faith. If we presented our members with your offer and they voted it down, you’re not not meeting industry standards by what wages you’re offering,” Osborn said. 

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