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Wearing matching red T-shirts and holding handwritten signs, several dozen hospital workers and supporters picketed outside Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa for two hours on Thursday.

Hospital workers gathered outside the Queen, a Providence St. Joseph hospital, “to demand contracts that provide safe staffing” as Providence seeks state approval to create a partnership between its Northern California hospitals and several belonging to Adventist Health, according to a news release from the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

Sharon Dye has worked at the Queen for 22 years and is currently a monitor technician. She joined the picket line “to draw attention” to the unsigned contract. Workers voted to join the NUHW union in 2016.

“We just want what’s fair,” said Dye. “It’s time to complete this contract.” The patients deserve it, she said.

Maria Garcia, an obstetrics technician and 15-year Queen employee, said she was on the picket line “for our voices to be heard.”

The Queen “is just giving us the runaround,” by not agreeing to a contract with the NUHW, she said.

Cindy Ju, a Registered Nurse and 26-year Queen employee, said she came to the picket because “I want to support these workers. I want the community to know: without adequate staffing, the ones that really suffer are patients.”

Wearing blue scrubs and a hair covering, sterile processing technician Martha McNelis stood at the edge of the sidewalk on Trancas Street holding a sign that said “This is about patient care.”

“We want to be done with bargaining,” said McNelis.

According to the NUHW, in a survey conducted by the union, 92 percent of bedside caregivers at Providence St. Joseph hospitals throughout Northern California reported that their shifts are understaffed at least once a week.

“Nursing assistants reported having to care for as many as 20 patients at a time,” said the news release.

“Instead of using its resources to fix the problem, Providence is demanding in contract negotiations the unlimited right to cancel caregivers’ shifts even though that would only worsen the understaffing crisis,” said the release.

“We can’t provide quality patient care if we don’t have enough caregivers,” said Paula Reimers, a respiratory therapist at Queen of the Valley. “And the hospital won’t be able to retain quality workers if we can’t make enough to help support our families.”

“At St. Joseph Health, we want the same thing as our caregivers represented by unions—contracts that provide competitive pay and benefits to support caregivers and their families, and that allow us to attract and retain the best talent while remaining good stewards of our resources,” said Queen Chief Executive Larry Coomes.

“As we work together to create a collective bargaining agreement, we remain committed to continuing to bargain in good faith with the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW),” he continued.

“We respect the rights of caregivers to be represented by a union, and for represented caregivers to conduct informational picketing. It is important to note that these events are not a strike and do not impact patient care in any way,” Coomes added.

“Unfortunately, due to this informational picket, we had to reschedule today’s bargaining meeting for a later date,” said Coomes. “We look forward to getting back to the bargaining table, so we can continue working together toward our shared goals.”

Providence St. Joseph Health, the nation’s third largest non-profit health system, was formed by the 2016 merger of Providence Health & Services with St. Joseph Health, which operated Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and Petaluma Valley Hospital in Sonoma County, and St. Joseph Eureka and Redwood Memorial hospitals in Humboldt County.

In 2017, those hospitals reported combined profits exceeding $126 million, “yet Providence laid off more than 70 caregivers and failed to meet state-mandated requirements for providing charity care for patients who couldn’t afford medical bills,” said the union in its news release.

“Now Providence wants to merge its Northern California hospitals with Adventist Health System/West, which would drastically reduce services at St. Helena Hospital in Napa County, where the new company would have a monopoly on acute care hospitals,” said the union news release.

Providence St. Joseph is the nation’s third-largest non-profit health system by revenue and has 51 hospitals and more than 800 clinics. Adventist Health System/West operates 21 hospitals and more than 290 clinics, said the union news release.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers is a member-led union that represents Providence St. Joseph workers in Northern California and at Providence Tarzana in Southern California.

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