St. Joseph, union workers at odds amid contract talks

Confrontation Tuesday draws Fortuna police, no arrests made

St. Joseph Hospital pharmacy technician and NUHW member Vincent Guevara faces Fortuna police officers and hospital security employees at Fortuna’s Redwood Memorial Hospital on Tuesday afternoon. Contract talks stalled Tuesday between the hospital and NUHW members, who sought to talk to hospital CEO Roberta Luskin-Hawk but were denied access, NUHW said. (Renee Saucedo — Contributed)
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An organizer for the National United Healthcare Workers, which represents hundreds of employees of St. Joseph and Redwood Memorial hospitals, said hospital officials were threatening to have its employees arrested after contract negotiations ended Tuesday.

Renee Saucedo, an NUHW organizer, said the hospital “walked out” of negotiations, which have been stalled since April when the contract that 500 Humboldt County NUHW technical and service workers work under expired.

The confrontation came to a head, Saucedo said, over an attempt by workers to talk to St. Joseph Hospital CEO Dr. Roberta Luskin-Hawk.

“We came to the administration building — it was locked — we were told by hospital officials right away that if we didn’t leave the hospital property, we would be arrested,” Saucedo said of the dozen or so employees who made the trek to Fortuna to talk to Luskin-Hawk. “We explained we wanted to have a conversation with the CEO. The Fortuna police showed up and threatened us with arrest and this is when we were forced to leave.”

Fortuna police spokesman Enoch Ibarra told the Times-Standard there were no arrests made.

“The hospital called because a group that is trying to negotiate with them about a contract didn’t want to leave,” Ibarra said. “The officers showed up and made it clear they didn’t want to arrest anybody.”

He said the complaint was that the employees were on hospital property. He said the group was asked to disperse and it did. He noted some of the group had name tags on, which led him to believe they were employees.

The hospital, in a statement provided by spokesman Christian Hill, said the “threatening and intimidating behavior” of the NUHW members necessitated call in law enforcement.

“Law enforcement was called only after a small group disrupted a meeting and refused to leave hospital grounds,” the statement said. “Our ministry is centered on patient care and we cannot permit disruption of hospital operations.”

The hospital said it is “committed to working together in a professional and respectful manner” at the bargaining table.

Candelaria Ramos, who has worked at the hospital for the past nine years as a housekeeper, voiced frustration with the hospital Tuesday afternoon.

“I have to use my (paid time off) to show up for these negotiations,” she said. “I spend my PTO to receive the answer ‘no.’ … I spend the day to pretend to be in negotiations for nothing.”

She said she felt the hospital administrators were being “disrespectful” to its employees.

Watch this space for updates. Got a tip? Let us know at reporters@times-standard.com or at 707-441-0500.

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