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Complaint: Santa Clara County hospital execs threatened workers over striking

Valley Medical Center leaders accused of engaging in anti-union tactics, violating workers' rights

An entrance of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose on Jan. 12, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Health care workers have filed a complaint against Santa Clara County, claiming hospital leaders intimidated and threatened them for planning to participate in a strike.

The California Public Employees Relations Board is investigating a complaint filed on Oct. 31 by SEIU Local 521. The complaint alleges Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (VMC) executives engaged in anti-union tactics and violated workers' rights to participate in a strike organized by county doctors. The union, which represents more than 5,000 health care professionals at VMC, filed the complaint on behalf of the 58 physician assistants and psychologists at the hospital.

"Given the staffing crisis at Valley Medical Center, it is imperative that workers' right to speak out and take concerted action be protected," Mullissa Willette, SEIU Local 521 president, told San Jose Spotlight.

Last month, county doctors represented by Valley Physicians Group threatened to go on an unprecedented four-day strike this month over stalled contracts and untenable working conditions. The strike was averted after the county and union reached a pending agreement in late October.

According to the complaint, VMC CEO Paul Lorenz and Chief Medical Officer Phuong Nguyen sent a letter on Oct. 25 to workers, threatening against participating in the strike. The letter said workers could be reported to the state medical board for failing to fulfill their jobs, which could result in the suspension of their licenses.

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Union representatives said the letter "illegally threatened" members' medical licenses for supporting the county doctors' strike. California labor laws allow union workers to refuse to cross a picket line.

"While the county and (Valley Physicians Group) reached an agreement that averted the strike, this kind of action by Santa Clara County potentially puts all patients and the public at risk because it silences the voices of the very frontline workers that need to be heard," Willette said.

The complaint demands VMC leaders stop threatening discipline and retaliation over union members' planned participation in the strike and to post a notice of the anti-union tactics.

Lorenz and Nguyen declined to comment through a spokesperson.

The complaint follows county doctors and health care workers sounding the alarm on ongoing worker shortages, outdated equipment and dismissive leadership in Santa Clara County's hospital system. Primary care physicians said yearslong problems such as increased workloads and decreased staffing make their jobs impossible. Without support staff, they have to work after their shifts and on their days off to keep up. Specialists, such as those in radiology, are frustrated with substandard equipment and a backlog of hundreds of patients who spend months waiting for basic scans such as MRIs and CTs. Other workers said they are doing the job of two to three people.

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County doctors said some of their workload concerns have been addressed in the new contract. But for other health care professionals, the workplace culture where leadership intimidates workers and silences them is nothing new. Many spoke previously to this news organization under the condition of anonymity due to fear of retaliation from hospital administration.

"The leadership has a reputation of retaliation if you ever cross or go against them," a county doctor previously told San Jose Spotlight, pointing to physicians who were fired or removed from their positions for being outspoken. "It's a culture of fear."

This story, from Bay City News Service, was originally published by San Jose Spotlight.

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Complaint: Santa Clara County hospital execs threatened workers over striking

Valley Medical Center leaders accused of engaging in anti-union tactics, violating workers' rights

by Tran Nguyen / San Jose Spotlight /

Uploaded: Sun, Nov 20, 2022, 9:04 am
Updated: Tue, Nov 22, 2022, 9:12 am

Health care workers have filed a complaint against Santa Clara County, claiming hospital leaders intimidated and threatened them for planning to participate in a strike.

The California Public Employees Relations Board is investigating a complaint filed on Oct. 31 by SEIU Local 521. The complaint alleges Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (VMC) executives engaged in anti-union tactics and violated workers' rights to participate in a strike organized by county doctors. The union, which represents more than 5,000 health care professionals at VMC, filed the complaint on behalf of the 58 physician assistants and psychologists at the hospital.

"Given the staffing crisis at Valley Medical Center, it is imperative that workers' right to speak out and take concerted action be protected," Mullissa Willette, SEIU Local 521 president, told San Jose Spotlight.

Last month, county doctors represented by Valley Physicians Group threatened to go on an unprecedented four-day strike this month over stalled contracts and untenable working conditions. The strike was averted after the county and union reached a pending agreement in late October.

According to the complaint, VMC CEO Paul Lorenz and Chief Medical Officer Phuong Nguyen sent a letter on Oct. 25 to workers, threatening against participating in the strike. The letter said workers could be reported to the state medical board for failing to fulfill their jobs, which could result in the suspension of their licenses.

Union representatives said the letter "illegally threatened" members' medical licenses for supporting the county doctors' strike. California labor laws allow union workers to refuse to cross a picket line.

"While the county and (Valley Physicians Group) reached an agreement that averted the strike, this kind of action by Santa Clara County potentially puts all patients and the public at risk because it silences the voices of the very frontline workers that need to be heard," Willette said.

The complaint demands VMC leaders stop threatening discipline and retaliation over union members' planned participation in the strike and to post a notice of the anti-union tactics.

Lorenz and Nguyen declined to comment through a spokesperson.

The complaint follows county doctors and health care workers sounding the alarm on ongoing worker shortages, outdated equipment and dismissive leadership in Santa Clara County's hospital system. Primary care physicians said yearslong problems such as increased workloads and decreased staffing make their jobs impossible. Without support staff, they have to work after their shifts and on their days off to keep up. Specialists, such as those in radiology, are frustrated with substandard equipment and a backlog of hundreds of patients who spend months waiting for basic scans such as MRIs and CTs. Other workers said they are doing the job of two to three people.

County doctors said some of their workload concerns have been addressed in the new contract. But for other health care professionals, the workplace culture where leadership intimidates workers and silences them is nothing new. Many spoke previously to this news organization under the condition of anonymity due to fear of retaliation from hospital administration.

"The leadership has a reputation of retaliation if you ever cross or go against them," a county doctor previously told San Jose Spotlight, pointing to physicians who were fired or removed from their positions for being outspoken. "It's a culture of fear."

This story, from Bay City News Service, was originally published by San Jose Spotlight.

Comments

David
Registered user
another community
on Nov 20, 2022 at 1:54 pm
David, another community
Registered user
on Nov 20, 2022 at 1:54 pm

The article about Santa Clara Valley Medical Center executives responding to potential strikes by doctors and other medical staff with threats mentions that California labor law allows striking union members to refuse to cross picket lines. However no further clarification is offered-does the law allow employers to refuse to reinstate striking workers? Does the law only apply to striking public sector workers like those at Valley Medical? If a journalist is going to report on an important public issue such as this one he or she should at least provide sufficient context for readers to understand what is being reported.


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