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Sutter Health workers vote to unionize

Workers at a Sutter Health’s Sutter Center for Psychiatry are unionizing over staffing concerns and wages, the National Union of Healthcare Workers announced Monday.

More than 150 social workers, case managers, therapists, patient support specialists, housekeepers and food service workers at the Sutter Center for Psychiatry in Sacramento, California, voted to form the union last week. A group of registered nurses at the same facility joined the California Nurses Association in December.

“I’ve witnessed the fear in my colleagues’ eyes when faced with safety risks and the threat of retaliation from management as they struggle to stretch their paychecks to meet the demands of our current economy,” Lindsay Thuy Dao, a recreational therapist at Sutter Center for Psychiatry, said in a news release. “Joining NUHW will ensure that we have a guaranteed voice in matters that deeply affect every aspect of our lives.”

Sutter Health, a not-for-profit integrated health system based in Sacramento, will “bargain in good faith” with the union, a spokesperson wrote in an email.

“While we preferred to continue working directly with our employees, without the involvement of an outside third party, we respect our employees’ right to choose,” the spokesperson wrote. “Sutter is doing everything we can to support the emotional and physical wellbeing of our caregivers while working to meet national staffing challenges head on, including offering competitive pay and benefits and hiring additional staff to fill permanent and temporary positions.”

The National Union of Healthcare Workers represents more than 4,000 mental health professionals in California, including psychologists, therapists, social workers and psychiatric nurses, according to the labor organization. Its members include 625 workers at Sutter Health’s California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

Workers in healthcare and other fields have ramped up union organizing efforts and job actions during the COVID-19 pandemic, seeking better working conditions and higher pay.

Members of the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West at Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch, California, went on strike last month. In January, workers at Sutter Coast Hospital in Crescent City, California, voted to join the California Nurses Association.

And more than 25,000 unionized Kaiser Permanente employees in California and Oregon voted to authorize strikes since their contracts with the Oakland, California-based system expired Oct. 1.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers has been adding mental health workers to its ranks recently, including 34 from Seton Medical Center in Daly City, California, last week. National Union of Healthcare Workers President Sal Rosselli said in a news release.

“With the pandemic driving up demand for behavioral healthcare, we’re getting more inquiries from clinicians who are seeing what they can accomplish for each other and their patients as part of a union,” Rosselli said.

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