Riverside union workers protest over lack of safety

Protesters covered the lawn and filled the hallways of the Riverside County Courthouse Aug. 29 as representatives of the Service Employees International Union Local 721 gathered to protest the lack of safety conditions at Riverside County Hospital and the pay raise agreements promised by the Riverside County administration.

The protesters mainly represented the county medical health system, such as the hospital, local medical clinics and the Department of Public Social Services. SEIU 721 accounts for 7,300 out of 20,000 county employees. The union confronted the county about its failed attempts to address unsafe work conditions at the county health care facilities.

“It’s common practice for workers to come together to strike for short periods of time to send a powerful message that we’re willing to take drastic action to demand an immediate stop to the county’s unfair practices.” said Bob Schoonover, president of SEIU 721, in a statement to Press-Enterprise.

Amy Martinez, nurse from the Riverside County Hospital and participant in the union strike, told stories about being assaulted by patients, such as instances in which nurses had their hair pulled out and did not have security to help protect the people in the hospital.

The union passed around photos of knives and guns that nurses have confiscated from patients. Martinez said nurses are concerned because the lethal weapons that were confiscated still reside in the hospital without proper disposal.

“The county has dealt with threats of strikes before, and as in the past, advance preparations will ensure all departments are adequately staffed to protect the public’s health and safety,’’ Ray Smith, the county spokesman, told the public. “Temporary staffing is available if needed, and the county is prepared to seek a court order to prevent any unlawful strike by personnel specifically responsible for protecting public health and safety.”

Amy Martinez and some her coworkers went back to work the following Wednesday because of a court mandate stating the hospital employee shortages.

“(The county) has bargained in good faith this year and truly values employees’ hard work and dedication, Smith said. “Because of that appreciation, the average salary increase for SEIU and LIUNA employees since 2012 was approximately 38 percent, and approximately 30 percent of RSA employees. That does not count the cost of living adjustments of 8 percent to 9 percent.”

While the Riverside County Court House has not responded in any action to the strike yet, the union is hoping to have its concerns met and improved for not only the betterment of Riverside employees but also the well-being of patients and their visitors at Riverside County Hospital.

About Isabel Sterbenz

Asst. Business & Tech Editor

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