About 800 employees from the University of Southern California’s Keck Hospital planned to strike Wednesday over wages and benefits, according to the National Union of Healthcare Workers. The group was set to hold a rally in front of the hospital at noon.
The union said that 1,200 nurses represented by the California Nurses Association were also scheduled to hold an informational picket line from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and that about 100 contract employees who work in the hospital's cafeteria were rallying as well.
Hospital administrators brought in contract workers in anticipation of the strike.
According to the union, one in six of the 900 hospital workers earn less than $15 per hour. A hospital spokesperson refuted that figure.
The union also said Keck workers don't receive the same retirement-plan contribution USC gives to its other employees.
"Keck-USC also denies these workers, many of whom are people of color, the tuition assistance benefit it offers to the rest of its workers, which provides financial assistance to the children of USC workers who are admitted to the university," the union said in a statement.
According to the hospital, that benefit isn't available to "any other represented group within the Keck Health System. Any allegations that our refusal to concede on this benefit is discriminatory are patently untrue."
Keck Medical Center CEO Rod Hanners said that the hospital has been negotiating a new contract with its employees for almost a year and has been “making great progress.” He added that matters concerning the cafeteria workers, who are employed by Sodexo, aren’t within the hospital’s purview.
Enrico Dines of Sodexo said that the company is evaluating a proposal laid out by the union at a meeting on Tuesday and that they plan to meet again in March.
“The patients, they need care,” said Diluvian Oliva, a Keck cafeteria employee who joined the strike Wednesday. “We need to wipe off their tables. We need to help them sit up. We need to see if everything is OK.”
Oliva said that the group came out on Wednesday with heavy hearts.
“We are worried about our patients of course… If we miss one day, they notice us,” she said. “We're the ones that come in with the smile; we come in with the customer service; we come in ready to work. But we also ask the Keck-USC looks at us with respect.”