Pandemic supply and labor shortages have come down especially hard on San Francisco’s century-old Chinese Hospital, where dozens of staffers and union activists walked out Monday to protest potential cuts to benefits.
The dispute between the union and management centered on what protesters characterized as a staffing shortage that endangers patients at the historic Chinatown hospital, which was founded in 1925 to care for Asian immigrants who couldn’t find help anywhere else because of widespread discrimination.
“Not just any caregiver can work here—we know and love our patients, we speak their language, and we understand this community’s healthcare needs,” said Jonathan Ho, a transporter at the facility. “Management needs to be doing more to recruit and retain experienced caregivers who are attuned to this culture, not driving us away with cuts and refusing to hire enough staff.”
After a few years of working through the pandemic, about 100 members of SEIU-UHW—which represents “allied” healthcare workers including housekeepers, kitchen aides, technicians, central supply staff, radiology technicians, transporters and other frontline staff—are trying to negotiate a pension and pay raise.
Union activists and healthcare worker staff march in front of Chinese Hospital in Chinatown on Jackson Street on Monday, May 16, 2022. | Camille Cohen
Organizers are also trying to protect health insurance for family members who risk catching COVID because of their work on the front lines of the pandemic.
Halina Wong, an MRI tech who joined the picket line Monday, said hospital management should find a way to get what they need “without taking away from the employees.”
Chinese Hospital staffers have taken a huge risk by working through the pandemic, she said—and they’ve brought that risk back home to their families. That’s why taking away a benefit that protects their loved ones, Wong said, is “really hurting them.”
Chinese Hospital CEO Jian Zhang said skyrocketing costs have made it incredibly difficult for administrators to balance costs.
“We are not taking away benefits, we are working to cut unnecessary costs,” said Zhang, who defended the compensation packages as competitive.
Inflation, personal protective equipment costs and overall supply chain shortages have placed a tremendous burden on the hospital, Zhang acknowledged. Especially, she explained, since as a community hospital it’s so much less profitable than its larger counterparts.
Still, the small, longstanding institution has managed to adapt, Zhang added. In the early days of the pandemic, she said, management elected to cut its own pay by 20 percent to avoid layoffs. Meanwhile, unionized staff has received pay raises since the pandemic began.
Jian Zhang, CEO of Chinese Hospital walks through the halls of the history-filled care center in Chinatown on Jackson Street on Monday, May 16, 2022. | Camille Cohen
“We have to be able to sustain,” she said, “and provide job security and the most reliable care to the community.”
Wong and other protesters said they understand the challenges faced by hospital leadership as they try to sustain an institution that’s the last of its kind in the nation serving monolingual Chinese patients and the only remaining hospital in San Francisco that isn’t government-run or part of a chain.
But taking away a benefit that workers and their families rely on, Wong said, “is really a big hit.”
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