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East Bay Health Care Workers Strike Forces County to Disband the Boss

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On day two of their five-day strike, Alameda Health System workers in California’s East Bay won a landmark victory. After years of stalling, the elected Board of Supervisors of Alameda County suddenly announced they would disband the unelected Board of Trustees that has long mismanaged this public safety-net health care system.

In 1998, Alameda County supervisors decided to hand off administration of the county health care system to an unelected board, with an aim to cut spending. While the system remained public, it ceased to be directly funded by the county or under its jurisdiction; instead the county loaned AHS money and forced it to pay back any debts. This was part of a wave of privatization and outsourcing of public services across the county and the country.

The Board of Trustees soon turned to union-busting and dangerous cuts to care and staffing. According to health care workers, the COVID-19 pandemic made a bad situation into a nightmare, as AHS management responded to the pandemic by denying workers adequate PPE or training, laying off essential staff, and retaliating against workers who spoke up.

Yet even a month ago, Alameda County supervisors were unwilling to take AHS back under their direct control. Current County Supervisor Wilma Chan was also on the board in 1998, and voted then to give up democratic control of the health system. Chan, who chairs the Board of Supervisors’ health committee, until yesterday had been a skilled opponent of the county resuming responsibility. What forced the politicians to act was a strike with deep rank-and-file participation.

“When you have over 3,000 employees in a health care system, marching out and saying something is wrong, somebody has to listen to that,” said Sheleka Carter, a community health outreach worker and AHS chapter secretary in Service Employees (SEIU) Local 1021. “How can you ignore it?”

TURNING POINT

The strike has forced politicians to take responsibility for the system, but the move is only the start of a fight to determine how AHS will be run. Details of how county government will manage the system and handle AHS debts to the county have yet to be hammered out. Nonetheless, for East Bay health care workers and patients, this victory marks a turning point.

“The privatization is stopped,” said Carter. “It brings the system to a place where now the community has a say in how they get care and how the system is run. Employees have a voice about the changes that need to be made.”

In a rally Thursday at county headquarters, workers made clear they plan to strike until they win a fair contract for patients and workers alike.

“If it takes five strikes, we will strike five times,” said Mawata Kamara, an emergency nurse at San Leandro Hospital and member of the California Nurses Association, whose members are also on strike at San Leandro and Alameda Hospitals. “We are ready!”

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on October 13, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Keith Brower Brown is a graduate student instructor and member of United Auto Workers Local 2865 at the University of California, Berkeley.


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Transit Strike Could Once Again Gridlock Bay Area

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Laura ClawsonAfter a brief but disruptive strike in July, a 30-day contract extension, and a 60-day cooling-off period, transit workers in the San Francisco area may once again strike as early as Tuesday. Bay Area Rapid Transit authority management has made what it’s characterizing as “last, best, and final” offer, meaning it plans to stop negotiating and ultimately just impose its offer on workers. Union officials are saying that if management doesn’t return to the bargaining table, they’ll have no choice but to strike:

Union leaders dismissed the offer Sunday as “regressive,” saying it was lower than previous offers. They extended their previous strike deadline by one day, to midnight Tuesday, but warned that members would strike if BART did not return to the table ready to negotiate.”We regret that this action needs to be taken but we have done everything we can do to bargain fairly,” said Antonette Bryant, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555. “Our members don’t want to go on strike, but we are being backed into a corner.”

Management has returned to bargaining after claiming a last, best, and final offer before—but also hasn’t shown much commitment to bargaining at all, let alone in good faith. When the cooling-off period began:

Instead of bargaining around the clock, management steadfastly refused to meet, and repeatedly stymied efforts by state-appointed mediators to schedule bargaining sessions. BART management informed its unions that it had already made its “best, last, and final offer.” There was therefore no reason to negotiate, explained BART’s expensive Ohio-based negotiator Tom Hock, as further sessions would “not be fruitful.”Hock, who is being paid almost $400,000 or about $3,400 per day, was unavailable for almost a third of the 30-day contract extension period in July, and he refused to meet the unions during the first month or so of the 60-day cooling off period. Hock found nothing in the injunction that “specifies any required meeting schedule.” Instead, it required “only that the parties maintain the status quo” — i.e., avoid a strike or lockout. When the 60-day cooling off period started, his position appeared to be, “See you on day 40”!

BART workers haven’t had a raise in five years, and have made significant concessions in recent years to help bolster the system’s financial stability. Now they’re faced with management exaggerating how much they’re paid to make them look greedy, when—as the July strike made clear—they’re essential to the economy and quality of life in the Bay Area.

This article was originally printed on Daily Kos on October 14, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author:  Laura Clawson is the labor editor at Daily Kos.


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