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For nearly a century, St. Joseph Health has provided high-quality health care in Humboldt County. Embracing the legacy of the Sisters of St. Joseph who enhanced life here by working with people that shared the goal of caring for the entire community — including the poor and vulnerable — we continue to be committed to building partnerships inside and outside our organization. The belief in partnership has been a guiding principle in our approach to our ongoing contract negotiations with the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

Despite months of negotiations and agreement on multiple issues, on Wednesday, Nov. 20 NUHW — which represents our service and technical employees — will hold a one-day strike at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka and Redwood Memorial in Fortuna.

We respect our caregivers’ rights to engage in this action and other lawful activities. However, we are disappointed that the union started negotiations with a request for an unrealistic and unsustainable wage increase of more than 20% over a three-year period.

During negotiations, we emphasized that this and other union proposals are unrealistic and not factually supported by either industry-standard or market specific data. We are, however, willing to work on market adjustments for hard-to-fill positions in addition to reasonable across-the-board increases for all employees.

Unfortunately, we have not been able to deliver the full scope of our economics proposal due to the union’s disruptive behavior at sessions in September which led to an abrupt end to negotiations. Furthermore, the union cancelled mutually agreed upon dates scheduled for November.

As a result, employees await much deserved wage increases. To properly put into context the pay range currently in place at our hospitals in Humboldt County, NUHW employees start at $15 per hour for an entry level position and go up to over $61 per hour for the most senior, highly skilled employee. Our intent in negotiations is to ensure our pay and benefits package continues to retain and attract the best talent to serve our community.

The Union has also continued to express an unwillingness to have their benefits package align with the same paid time off (PTO), retirement and health benefit options that NUHW-represented employees in Southern California have accepted in their contract. The PTO (Paid Time Off including holidays) benefits offered provides for 200 hours (5 weeks) for staff who have worked for less than 3 years with gradual increases up to 280 hours (7 weeks) for staff with 15 years or more of service.

Our preference has always been to reach a mutually acceptable agreement constructively and in good faith; therefore, we offered to involve a federal mediator. However, the union declined this offer.

We remain committed to reaching an agreement with NUHW, but the union’s actions are only delaying resolution of a contract and wage increases. NUHW needs to work with us on proposals that are reasonable and sustainable for our hospitals.

It remains our desire to reach an agreement with NUHW so that our employees may receive the significant and immediate wage increases our planned proposal provides. We are fortunate to have employees that find inspiration in the opportunity to live our mission and care for our community. We are committed to treat all of our employees fairly and equitably and hope that their union representatives will engage more constructively in the process when we return to the table after the strike.

The community has come to expect and depend on our care, and our employees work hard every day to deliver on our commitment as an organization. We remain steadfast in our commitment to investing in robust and sustainable health care for this community, seeking to attain our vision of Health for a Better World.

Roberta Luskin-Hawk, M.D., is chief executive of St. Joseph Health, Humboldt County.

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