St. Joseph Hospital workers call out timing of dig near strike site

Hospital says work was planned, needs to be done before 'ground gets too wet'

A fence surrounds the grassy area at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka where a strike is expected to take place Wednesday starting at 6 a.m. (Ruth Schneider — The Times-Standard)
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Some hospital employees called out the actions of St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka today after work began to dig up an area where a planned strike is set to take place Wednesday starting at 6 a.m.

“To me, it’s not a coincidence,” Eureka City Councilman Austin Allison, who is also a member of the National Union of Healthcare Workers and a hospital employee, said this afternoon. “Every time we have picketed in the past, they have displayed some passive-aggressive behavior.”

The hospital said the work was planned.

“St. Joseph Health – Humboldt County continues to make capital investments on all campuses,” the hospital said in a statement provided by spokesman Christian Hill. “The work on the private property has been planned and needs to take place before the ground gets too wet to do the work.”

Allison vented on Facebook about the hospital construction that blocked off access to a patch of grass adjacent to the sidewalk on Harrison Avenue where workers have gathered during recent strikes and pickets.

“Last time there was a picket, security decided to water the lawn conveniently when a hundred people were standing out there peacefully,” Allison said. “… This excavator literally dug three … holes, and broke an underground box in the process of trying to act like this place is an active construction site. Oopsie.”

Another hospital employee, James Ladika, who works as a nurse at the hospital, called the move “childish.”

Local NUHW union representative Renee Saucedo said the move would not deter the union’s planned strike.

“No barrier or fence can keep our members from asserting their legal right to strike when the hospital has treated them so disrespectfully,” Saucedo said this afternoon.

The union represents an estimated 500 employees at both St. Joseph Hospital and Redwood Memorial in Fortuna. NUHW members cover a range of jobs at the hospital including lab techs, janitors, nursing assistants and clerical workers.

Saucedo said she expected there to be as many as 200 people at one time in front of the hospital as part of the strike. With the orange fencing around the lawn, it limits strikers to sidewalk space along Harrison Avenue in front of the main hospital.

“It’s just a shame the hospital would lock up this area and put the pickets in unsafe situations,” she said. “But we’ll do the best we can because our members are doing this for our patients and the community.”

The strike comes amid ongoing contract negotiations between St. Joseph Health and NUHW, which has been working without a contract since April.

Saucedo said the hospital last offered a 1.5% wage increase, which she said does not cover cost-of-living increases for workers locally.

Allison told the Times-Standard there was a disparity between Santa Rosa-based St. Joseph Health employees and local workers.

“Between the hospitals in California, there are some super big pay discrepancies,” he said. “Someone in Santa Rosa, someone who does my job, is making 50 to 60 percent higher than what I am making. … I don’t think it costs 60% more to live in Santa Rosa.”

Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.

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