Workers of the Burlingame Skilled Nursing Facility went on an unfair labor practice strike Thursday, after months of bargaining for increased wages, better health insurance and more staffing.
Workers say they have been overworked and still have not reached an agreement with management for better wages and benefits.
The Burlingame nursing facility, located at 1100 Trousdale Drive, is managed by Brius, LLC, a large for-profit company that manages over 80 facilities in California.
Reynafe Mosquera, a licensed vocational nurse who has been working at the facility since 2013, said that since the pandemic began, workers have had to take long shifts and are in frequent contact with COVID-positive patients.
“In December and January, it was too much. Almost everyday someone had to die and it scared us,” Mosquera said.
As of Thursday, 207 residents at the facility had contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic began, with 34 patients succumbing to the virus, according to state data. In addition, 65 workers have gotten the virus and had to quarantine due to exposure.
Mosquera said she knew of a registered nurse who resigned, then wound up testing positive for COVID-19 afterwards.
“We don’t want to wait until we get intubated,” Mosquera said.
It’s not just the fact that workers have to take more shifts. They say management did not let them know that their hours and wages had changed. Such unilateral decision-making is one of the reasons for the strike.
Mosquera used to work 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., but now she is forced to work until 7 p.m. unless she finds someone to replace her on her shifts.
But, replacements are hard to come by, and that leaves Mosquera and other workers with a tough schedule and no way out accept to bargain for better conditions.
The facilities workers are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 829. AFSCME Union Representative Gaelan Ash said the strike is not an economic strike, but an unfair labor practice strike. Some of these unfair practices include changing hours and wages without notifying employees.
“They also have been intimidating workers about the strike,” Ash said. “They have attempted to bribe workers across the picket line, offering people $500 to cross the picket line, all of which are illegal.”
The group on strike is just a fraction of the workers at the facility, which includes 150 to 175 people in total. Some people were afraid to strike out of fear.
Bargaining began last August, Ash said.
Workers requested a 3.5%pay increase from this July. Instead, management offered a 2% increase.
Workers requested full health coverage and 90% coverage for children and spouses. Instead, management offered minimal coverage to workers who have been at the facility for 10 or more years.
Meanwhile, other workers are paying out of pocket for health insurance and using personal funds in place of sick leave.
Ash, who represents five bargaining units — about 1,200 workers — in San Mateo County, said that this employer is the worst he has had to deal with.
“Every other unit I had last spring, we managed to bargain. They agreed to sit down at the bargaining table,” Ash said. “In this case, management has flat out refused to bargain.”
Bay City News reached out to Burlingame Nursing Facility for comment. Management was not immediately available for an interview on Thursday.
Arnel Dolores, a licensed vocational nurse, said that since he started in September, the job has been overwhelming for him. He’s had to manage 40 patients in one day and once worked a 20-hour shift because there was no one else to cover him.
He said they are so understaffed that it is difficult to give basic needs to patients.
“Every day you come into work fearing the worst just because we don’t have enough bodies to check on the patients,” Dolores said. “We’ve spread ourselves thin and it’s unbearable.”
Dolores said he joined Thursday’s strike to advocate for the certified nursing assistants, or CNAs, who carry a large burden of the work.
“I’m just really here to fight for the nurses that have been here for years that deserve better benefits,” Dolores said. “They’re risking their lives and there’s not enough compensation for the risk.”
As for the strike, he hopes that if they keep fighting, things can get better.
The strike will continue Friday.