NUHW members hit picket lines at Keck-USC


Confronting a management contract proposal that would freeze wages, cut healthcare benefits, and limit their free speech rights, NUHW members poured out of university hospitals and clinics on June 5 for an informational picket.

The healthcare workers, who include nearly 2,000 licensed vocational nurses, nursing assistants, medical technicians, dietary staff, respiratory therapists, and housekeepers, grabbed picket signs and started marching and chanting outside Keck Hospital of USC, USC Norris Cancer Hospital, and USC Healthcare Center–Beverly Hills.

“We are already so short-staffed that more than 140 patient care technicians (nursing assistants) wrote a letter to management about how patient care is suffering,” said David Zavala, a PCT at Keck Hospital of USC. Zavala said that although he and his colleagues shouldn’t be caring for more than eight patients at a time, there have been instances due to staffing shortages that they’ve been assigned as many as 26 patients on a single shift.

“When we delivered the letter, management responded with many promises about changes, but things have not improved,” he added. “People are already talking about quitting because of this, and it will be hard to attract more workers if wages are so low.”

While NUHW members seek to improve wages and working conditions to address unsafe staffing levels, the hospital system has responded with proposals that would make them pay more for their healthcare, accept lower starting wage rates, and eliminate several of the scheduled pay increases they receive as they gain seniority.

“Do you know what that means?” Noemi Aguirre, a Keck-USC respiratory therapist, asked her colleagues during a lunchtime rally. “It means that over 60 percent of us would never see a raise during the next contract. After years of huge increases in inflation… it’s insulting and unserious to propose to freeze our wages.”

The university’s proposal wouldn’t just harm workers’ bottom line — it would also jeopardize their jobs and the care their patients receive.

Keck-USC seeks the right to subcontract union jobs and prohibits workers from taking their concerns about patient care directly to the community through informational pickets and leafleting.

“USC is trying to exploit us, and that’s why we fight — for ourselves and our patients,” Lucy Lamont, an ambulatory worker, told her colleagues during the rally.

While the university is trying to freeze wages and make workers pay more for their own healthcare, USC’s healthcare system reported a $531 million net operating profit in 2023. Keck Hospital of USC alone has nearly $850 million in reserves.

As NUHW members ramp up their fight for a fair contract, several community and labor leaders joined them on the picket line and pledged their support.

“Cutting wages, cutting hours, demanding more work from you while understaffing, you just ain’t going to work,” said Mark Ramos, chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and president of United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Local 1428. “Your fight is our fight; your fight is the community’s fight because Los Angeles is a union town, and L.A. County is union strong, and when we fight, we win.”

Janis Yue, assistant professor at USC for Clinical Occupational Therapy at the Violence Intervention Program, noted that healthcare workers inspired her as she pursued her degree.

“What kind of employer comes to the bargaining table and proposes taking away the incredible gains already won by NUHW: free health care, free parking, equitable wage increases, even though their bottom line continues to grow because of your daily labor,” Yue said. “Imagine if USC used the hundreds of thousands of dollars they used in arresting their own students for peacefully protesting in paying their workers fair wages instead.”

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