Prison Strike Update: Prevented From Delivering Care, Healthcare Workers Locked-Out of Alameda County Jails Hold Candlelight Vigil
OAKLAND, CA – Nurses, physician’s assistants, dental assistants and others who provide medical care at Alameda County’s two correctional facilities held a candlelight vigil outside the Glenn Dyer Detention Facility after being prevented from returning to work by their employer, Prison Health Services, following a one-day unfair labor practices strike.
The healthcare workers, standing up for safe conditions and quality jobs at the County jails, were joined by Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, Archbishop Aurea Lewis of the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice and community supporters. Yesterday as the workers walked off the job they were joined on the picket line by SEIU International President Andy Stern and Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico (D-Fremont).
The decision by Prison Health Services to lock-out the workers for seven days, not only is a violation of federal labor law, but puts at risk other workers in the facility, including the sheriff’s deputies, as well as the health and well-being of the inmates. One deputy inside Santa Rita Jail acknowledged mistakes and things not done, according to a news report on KTVU (please click here to view the report), which raises the question of potential liability for the County.
On Thursday, the workers plan to return to the bargaining table with Prison Health Services.
Thursday, March 11
Healthcare Workers return to the bargaining table
Santa Rita Jail (5325 Broder Boulevard, Dublin)
Prison Health Services is a Tennessee-based for-profit corporation that had earnings of more than half a billion dollars in 2009. They hold a $77 million, 3-year contract with Alameda County to provide medical services at the two County facilities.
In their contract with the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, Prison Health Services budgeted for a 10 percent increase in wages and healthcare benefits in years two and three of their County contract. Instead of using this taxpayer money to maintain wages and benefits, PHS proposes pocketing the money and increasing worker health insurance premiums—costing many workers nearly $3,000 a year more than they currently pay, and for inferior coverage. The 10 percent is more than enough to cover the costs of maintaining the current health insurance premiums and plan.
The workers, members of the Service Employees International Union – United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) voted 94 percent to strike on March 9th.
Healthcare Workers at Glenn Dyer Detention Facility and Santa Rita Jail Fight for Quality Care and Jobs
Prison Healthcare Services (PHS) is a for-profit corporation based near Nashville, Tennessee which contracts with state and local governments to provide medical care for jails and prisons.
According to the New York Times, Prison Health Services has become one of the biggest for-profit companies providing medical care in correctional facilities. In 2005, PHS held 86 contracts in 28 states, and provided care for 237,000 inmates—one in every ten people behind bars at the time. In 2009, Prison Health Services’ earnings hit $610.5 million—a 20 percent increase over the previous year.
Alameda County first contracted with PHS to provide healthcare services at the Glenn Dyer Detention Facility and the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin in 1988. In 2008 the County signed a new 3-year contract with PHS at a cost of $77 million. In the 2008 contract with the County, PHS stated they budgeted for a 10 percent increase in staff costs for health insurance and wages in 2010 and 2011.
Prison Health employs 143 nurses, physician’s assistants, dental assistants and others to provide medical care for the inmates at the two Alameda County facilities. The healthcare workers, members of the Service Employees International Union – United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW), have been negotiating with PHS management for nearly six months to ensure the facilities have proper staffing levels and safe conditions to ensure the safety of the workers and the inmates. The contract between SEIU-UHW members and PHS expired in December 2009.
Despite receiving millions in taxpayer dollars for increases in staff costs, Prison Health is now proposing cuts to the workers’ healthcare benefits and wage scale, threatening PHS’ ability to keep the experienced, well-trained healthcare workers who ensure the correctional facilities are safe and properly-staffed.
Health insurance costs a major sticking point: PHS is asking employees to pay an additional $2,635 a year more for health insurance coverage—a 250% percent increase—for a much worse plan. Even with a proposed four percent pay raise, the average employee with family health coverage will lose at least two percent of their take-home pay—before inflation—due to increased monthly health insurance premiums.
The $2.2 million in taxpayer money Prison Health received from Alameda County specifically for rising staff costs, more than covers the health plan employees currently have.
In 2006, the quality of care in the jails was compromised by chronic understaffing. As a result, PHS hired more staff and negotiated a wage scale with healthcare workers that would make it competitive in recruiting and retaining quality staff. Progress is being threatened by the current contract proposal.
The healthcare workers at Glenn Dyer and Santa Rita voted 94 percent in favor of a one-day strike beginning at 6 am on March 9. In response, PHS officials began a campaign of threats and retaliation against workers, including locking workers out of their jobs for seven days and cancelling previously scheduled vacations—both a violation of federal labor law.
The illegal and unnecessary lock-out will cost the company hundreds of thousands of additional dollars to hire expensive out-of-state workers, and cover their transportation, lodging, food, and other expenses.
Workers are asking PHS to keep their promise to Alameda County taxpayers, healthcare workers, and the community by ensuring quality jobs and quality care at Glenn Dyer and Santa Rita.
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SEIU - United Healthcare Workers-West (SEIU-UHW) is the largest hospital and healthcare union in the western United States with more than 150,000 members. We unite every type of healthcare worker with a mission to achieve high-quality healthcare for all. SEIU-UHW is part of the 2.1 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the nation's fastest-growing union. Learn more at www.seiu-uhw.org.