Hundreds of healthcare workers picketed outside Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and Medical Center in April before winning a new contract. So why did dozens donned in red National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) hold a rally there again Wednesday afternoon? Fountain Valley Regional subcontracts with Sodexo, a French multinational corporation, to employ its food and housekeeping staff. More than 100 workers were left out of the new contract and continue to be paid meager wages. But the union hopes all of that will change soon.
“These workers play a very important role in keeping the hospital clean and taking care of the patients,” says Antonio Orea, an NUHW labor organizer. “We’ve been in negotiations since they voted to unionize in November.” They’ve tried to get Sodexo to boost wages up from the $11 an hour average to $15 while lowering employee contributions for health insurance. The union also wants to increase staffing to ensure safer and better quality patient care. But Sodexo hasn’t budged on the demands.
The union highlights Sodexo’s healthy $1.2 billion profits last year in being a Fortune 500 outsourcing firm. Fountain Valley Regional, the largest for-profit hospital in Orange County, pays better wages for in-house workers but continues to subcontract with Sodexo for food and housekeeping staff. Dinora Benavides works as a meal cook and has 32 years of employment with Sodexo, but still struggles as a single mother of two kids. She also pays $220 in monthly employee contributions just on health insurance for herself alone. “It’s really hard because I cannot afford to live by myself,” Benavides says. “We don’t make enough money.”
The workers are not alone. Elected officials, from the State Assembly to local city councils, expressed support either at the rally or in written statements. “I believe hard work should translate into pay and benefits that further provide economic stability and a decent standard of living for these workers and their families,” Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva wrote to Fountain Valley Regional CEO Kenneth McFarland. “I urge you to work with your subcontractor, Sodexo, and NUHW to find an appropriate resolution to reach a fair and fruitful settlement for your hospital’s Dietary and Environmental Service workers.”
The rally outside Fountain Valley Regional was followed by a similar action yesterday at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles, where Sodexo pays lower wages for the same work than the university’s employed staff down the street at Keck Hospital. Many workers at both OC and LA work sites qualify for public assistance programs.
Miguel Gomez, a Sodexo-employed housekeeper at Fountain Valley Region for the past year, echoes Assemblywoman Quirk Silva. “We want an improvement in our working conditions, but most importantly we want a contract with wage increases for everybody,” he says. Despite helping keep a hospital clean, Gomez can’t afford health insurance for himself on his current salary. “It’s a little ironic, yeah?”