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Palomar Health nurses and caregivers cast ballots on June 7 during a two-day strike vote in front of Palomar Medical Center in Escondido. Photo by Ryan Grothe
Palomar Health nurses and caregivers cast ballots on June 7 during a two-day strike vote in front of Palomar Medical Center in Escondido. Photo by Ryan Grothe
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Palomar Health nurses, caregivers plan one-day strike for June 23

REGION — Nurses and caregivers at Palomar Medical Centers in Escondido and Poway will go on strike on June 23 as a last resort to bring Palomar Health officials to the bargaining table. The decision to strike comes after failed negotiations over the previous year related to a new four-year contract.

The California Nurses Association and the Caregivers and Healthcare Employees Union (CHEU) provided a 10-day strike notice to Palomar Health officials on June 13, just days after the Palomar Health union voted in favor of a strike due to unfair labor practices on June 7 and 8 at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido. 

Around 3,000 Palomar registered nurses and ancillary caregivers represented between the two organizations have been left without a contract one year into the four-year contract period.

The strike spells out significant impacts on the North San Diego County community. 

Palomar Health officials told The Coast News while they respect their workers’ right to strike, the health care provider will be involving the courts to prevent any negative impacts to patients.

“Palomar Health respects employees’ rights to engage in protected concerted activity,” hospital representatives said. “We hope employees decide not to walk away from their patients to go on strike. Palomar Health is seeking an injunction to limit the scope of the strike in order to avoid harm to the public.”

Union members say that as they seek remedies for staffing retention and health and safety issues at the Escondido and Poway hospitals, Palomar officials have engaged in bad faith bargaining by offering unacceptable proposals, declaring impasse without consulting the bargaining team, and imposing contract changes prematurely.

“They ignored our demands to make improvements for safe patient care,” said home health RN Glynn Cascolan. “We can’t provide the best care without a strong union contract that protects us and our patients, and attracts and retains excellent nurses and caregivers. After all that we have sacrificed during the height of the pandemic, we are disappointed by Palomar’s treatment of nurses and caregivers.”

Palomar Health workers voted 96% in favor of authorizing the union negotiators to call a strike. Photo by Ryan Grothe
Palomar Health workers voted 96% in favor of authorizing the union negotiators to call a strike. Photo by Ryan Grothe

All of this, in turn, prevents the hospital from offering the best care possible to the community, said Susan Adams, a 21-year registered nurse in the Escondido labor and delivery unit and bargaining team member.

“We want to get out there and provide excellent care for our community, and we are part of the community, so we have a vested interest in what’s going on. It’s not just a job,” Adams said. “We want a reasonable, strong contract for the staff and the hospital. We want a continued voice in what goes on.” 

Palomar Health representatives largely denied union members’ allegations, and said they have worked hard to bring forward legitimate proposals in the bargaining process.

“We negotiated with the unions for more than eleven months and they rejected our last, best, and final economic offers in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” Palomar officials said. “We are ready and willing to have further discussions, but their demands for hundreds of millions of additional dollars are not sustainable.”

Nurses say that staffing retention has been an ongoing issue that worsened with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Union members protested in September 2020 when, despite layoffs of over 200 nurses and caregivers, Palomar Health CEO Diane Hansen was granted a 20% raise, bringing her pay to over $900,000.

Since then, nurses and caregivers say Palomar has maintained a “skeleton staff” in various departments, including ICU units and the Escondido emergency department.

“Nurses and caregivers also note that drastic cuts in ancillary staff have compromised hygiene and sanitation at Palomar facilities,” CNA said in a press release about the strike. “There is not enough staff to adequately clean the ED, patient rooms, bathrooms, and other areas of the hospital, they say, and this is particularly dangerous during an ongoing pandemic.”

Health care employee strikes will be in place starting at 7 a.m. on June 23 with a rally in front of the Palomar Medical Center in Escondido. Photo by Ryan Grothe
Employee strikes will begin at 7 a.m. on June 23 with a rally in front of the Palomar Medical Center in Escondido. Photo by Ryan Grothe

Palomar representatives denied staffing is an issue, but acknowledged that cleaning schedules do sometimes need to be adjusted to prioritize patient care facilities. They claimed the union’s bargaining team has not responded to their proposals for improved contract language regarding safe staffing and health and safety.

“Palomar Health is currently staffing our volumes with no difficulty and maintaining California State mandated staffing ratios,” Palomar representatives said. “We have brought in approximately 200 travelers to ensure safe, appropriate staffing that meets California ratios. Any allegations to the contrary are not true.

“When there are staffing challenges, we modify non-patient care cleaning schedules (administrative and office areas) to use those staff to support Patient Care needs. We pride ourselves on clean, sanitary facilities.”

As the process has grown more contentious, union members and Palomar officials have sought recourse outside the bargaining table. The California Nurses Association has filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the state’s Public Employee Review Board, which remains under investigation. 

In late May, Palomar initiated a lawsuit against the California Nurses Association, CHEU and National Nurses United in Superior Court for allegedly trespassing and picketing outside Palomar Medical Center Escondido in relation to contract negotiations and sought a restraining order to prevent them from entering the facility. 

To Adams, the lawsuit is another example of Palomar’s lack of respect for the union and by extension, its workers.

“That definitely has been used as a tactic to weaken the union or [have it] be dismantled,” Adams said. “I want them to respect us, to come to the table and really listen to what we want to accomplish. And if we offer something, we want them to come back to the table and treat us like equals, face to face, and come up with reasonable outcomes.” 

Strikes will be in place from 7 a.m. on June 23 to 6:59 a.m. on June 24, with a rally and picketing planned at the Escondido center from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on June 23.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to include responses from Palomar Health officials.

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