Labor negotiations lead to protest at St. John’s Hospital Camarillo

Hospital workers staged an informational picket outside St. John's Hospital Camarillo on March 16. (Photo by Alex Wilson)

Bianca Torres has worked as a nursing assistant at St. John’s Hospital Camarillo for 10 years where she performs tasks such as bathing and feeding long-term patients. She was one of about two dozen workers who staged a protest outside the hospital on Thursday, March 16, over labor negotiations with Dignity Health which owns the hospital as well as St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Oxnard.

Torres is represented by the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU UHW) along with more than 350 other employees at the Camarillo hospital including dietitians, laboratory assistants and social workers.

Torres, who also serves as a union steward, told the Ventura County Reporter that staffing levels are one of the biggest concerns, particularly in light of the fact that many people have left the healthcare field due to stresses related to the pandemic.

“So at the end of the day you go home feeling like you didn’t do your job well because you didn’t provide enough, you didn’t spend time with your patients, you didn’t do the best care that they deserve. So you feel frustrated,” Torres said.

Union leaders are demanding 6% pay raises while Dignity Health officials are only offering 3%, Torres explained. Dignity Health is now part of the CommonSpirit Health system, which, according to the website, was created in 2019 with the merger of Dignity Health and Colorado-based Catholic Health Initiatives. Wikipedia describes CommonSpirit as the largest Catholic health system and the second-largest nonprofit hospital chain in the U.S. with more than 700 care sites and 142 hospitals in 21 states. According to SEIU UHW union officials, CommonSpirit Health earned $5.4 billion in profits for fiscal year 2021.

Karen McGee is a respiratory therapist at the Camarillo hospital and said inflation is making it hard for many workers to get by.

“We’re looking for at least a minimum $25 [an hour] so that people can feed their families and not have to work two or three jobs,” McGee said. “Nobody here is asking for so much that, you know, we’re going to break the bank. We all just want to earn a fair income. We’re asking to be recognized for the hard work that we’ve all gone through. The pandemic was a huge hit. We lost lots of staff members from it.”

Hospital officials did not agree to be interviewed by the Ventura County Reporter about the negotiations but hospital spokesperson Christina Zicklin provided an emailed statement about the protest outside the hospital.

“St. John’s Hospital Camarillo is deeply committed to the well-being of our staff and our patients. We recognize and respect the rights of our employees to participate in today’s informational picket. This event is related to ongoing contract negotiations between Dignity Health and SEIU-UHW. We want our community to know that providing safe, high-quality care is always our top priority. Hospital operations are not impacted by today’s event and all services continue to be available.”

St. John’s Hospital Camarillo:

CommonSpirit Health,

Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West,