Healthcare Can’t Find Relief, 3 Years Into The Pandemic

by | Mar 30, 2023 | Bargaining/Negotiations, Healthcare, SEIU, Strikes, Unions

As the pandemic began to wane, workplaces reopened and masks began to drop while life returned to “normal.” However, the healthcare industry has caught no such break and still feels the pain that Covid inflicted upon hospital systems, which were already enduring chronic staffing shortages and now cannot seem to catch a break.

Unions have been capitalizing on the dilemma and striking while their iron stays hot, and that’s prominently the case in New York, which was not only the earliest U.S. epicenter but remains a relative hotspot. One of the state’s top healthcare officials now describes the problem as “a bad flu season every day for three years.”

The ongoing workplace effects are real. Recently, multiple New York major medical centers were left with little choice but to offer 19% raises on new contracts after unions sent 7,000 nurses into strike mode, thereby adding to the chaos and disruption.

Recent New York statistics also remain grim: 100 New Yorkers still die from Covid-19 each week, and mid-March saw 1,350 hospitalized Covid patients on any given day. All the while, the state’s healthcare infrastructure finds itself decimated by the past few years’ massive influx of patients and an exodus of workers leaving the field.

Worker burnout prevails in New York hospitals, and understandably so. Elsewhere in the United States, healthcare remains a friction-filled industry:

  • California: The SEIU will wage a coordinated strike at 26 of Dignity Health’s facilities on March 30-31. The walkout will impact both hospital settings and outpatient locations, and although the union hasn’t pinpointed an exact number of participants, the SEIU represents over 18,000 workers in the hospital system. At issue: annual raises of 3% in 2022, whereas the union wants a 6% boost.
  • Michigan: 900+ respiratory therapists and technicians at Michigan Medicine’s University Hospital and C.S. Mott Children’s and Women’s Hospital formed the United Michigan Medicine Allied Professional union; and Trinity Health Michigan is fielding SEIU accusations that the company fired 11 outpatient lab workers for organizing and taking a day off after hitting an “emotional breaking point.”
  • More from New York: The SEIU came for New York Gov. Kathy Hochul as her proposed budget moves towards an April 1 approval deadline. One local union leader even boldly declared, “We worked very hard to get you elected because we believed in you…  we don’t work for you – you work for us.” The union seeks increased funding for worker pay, at least enough to outpace inflation.

Nationwide, nursing homes are also reeling. Earlier this month, the SEIU’s so-called “week of action” further strained facilities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and California. Warring state guidelines are not helping matters, and that’s the case in Ohio, where nursing home workers say that they are in crisis mode, and the state’s new Nursing Home Quality and Accountability Task Force won’t allow worker input.

Meanwhile, Europe is also seeing healthcare upheaval from union activity. In Britain, several healthcare unions came together to push workers into months-long strikes. The end result: an across-the-board minimum 5% wage boost for 1 million nurses and other healthcare workers.

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