Nursing Center workers strike over unethical practices

There’s a new boss in town. In May, San Diego-based Providence Group, Inc., bought San Francisco Nursing Center, a long-term care facility in the Mission District, and the company has made its presence felt.

Not for the better, unfortunately.

CEO Jason Murray and his business partners are running roughshod over the nursing center’s employees, leaving SFNC caregivers with no choice but to strike. With little notice, Providence Group unilaterally scrapped SFNC employees’ Kaiser Permanente healthcare plan and forced them into a markedly inferior plan that jacks up workers’ out-of-pocket costs and saddles them with sky-high deductibles.

With the stroke of a pen, Murray and his business partners shifted 90 percent or more of the company’s healthcare costs to their workers and thereby transferred at least $31,500 a month — $378,000 a year — to their bottom line, according to calculations by the workers’ union.

It’s a windfall that surely justifies Murray’s decision to hire union-busting Los Angeles attorney Josh Sable, who also handles “labor relations” for Brius Healthcare Services, California’s largest nursing home operator, which is under investigation for poor care and a “flagrant disregard for human life,” according to a devastating exposé by the Sacramento Bee’s investigative reporting team.

Meanwhile, Providence Group’s SFNC employees, who provide quality care to The City’s elderly population while earning wages as low as $14 an hour, are now grappling with a huge increase in their cost of living that threatens to drive them and their families out of one of the nation’s most expensive cities.

Paired with the cuts Sutter Health is attempting to force upon its employees at California Pacific Medical Center, Providence Group’s actions at SFNC are contributing to a drastic decrease in the quality of life for San Francisco healthcare workers that will only accelerate the rapid gentrification of The City, which has seen people of color evicted from their homes at alarming rates — rates that have jumped more than 170 percent in recent years.

These short-sighted business tactics, though directed at workers, will have long-term consequences for SFNC residents and their families.

“These sudden cuts to our healthcare will make it difficult to recruit quality caregivers in the future,” says Certified Nursing Assistant Marilyn Aquino, “and that will undermine the quality of care SFNC residents receive.”

Providence Group not only left workers scrambling to navigate a new healthcare system and deal with the ramifications for their families,it also cut their sick pay and vacation time. Murray and Sable are apparently operating under the assumption that a workforce composed almost exclusively of women of color won’t have the strength to stand up to them.

They’re wrong.

San Francisco Nursing Center’s 50 caregivers, with the support of many of the center’s residents and their families, as well as city and community leaders, voted unanimously to strike for one day, Wednesday, July 22, and picket in front of the facility at 5767 Mission Street. Their demand is simple: that Providence Group negotiate with the workers over changes to their health plan.

“No one wants a strike,” says Certified Nursing Assistant Cynthia Yee, “but Providence has left us no choice. They have shown profound disrespect for a staff of dedicated caregivers by refusing to consult with us over major changes that impact our families and our livelihoods.”

Let’s hope Murray and his Providence Group partners have enough business sense to understand that undermining the health and financial well-being of their caregivers undermines the quality of care that SFNC residents receive. That alone may not concern these businessmen — until they realize that a decline in quality inevitably leads to a decline in profit.

Sal Rosselli is president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents more than 10,000 workers throughout California, including fifty San Francisco Nursing Center caregivers.

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