California prison workers go on strike over health care hikes
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In Oakland, California, prison health care workers went on strike today to protest what they call unfair labor practices by their employer, Tennessee-based Prison Health Services, a for-profit corporation. Alameda county has a $77 million contract with Prison Health Services or PHS at two facilities, the Santa Rita Jail and Glenn Dyer Detention Center.
Workers are represented by SEIU International. They say PHS is raising healthcare copays and deductibles to an unaffordable rate.
Outside the Santa Rita Jail, about 140 workers gathered for the the day-long strike, including Dona Chatman, a licensed vocational nurse at the jail for nine years. She said the changes to healthcare benefits would affect her drastically.
"I'm a single mom myself, I have four children, and often times my children do get sick, they have asthma, so if I have to take them to the hospital and pay that type of money, it would definitely set me back. To take away my benefits, it would almost be like taking away our wages that we worked so hard for in our last contract."
Under the contract with Alameda country, PHS was also supposed to budget for an increase in wages - but that's now off the table, according to the SEIU. Chatman says wages have a direct impact on whether or not they can provide adequate care to prisoners.
"There was a point in time when we were extremely short staffed which was in our last contract, and it was because we faught to get that wage skill in and we were able to get worker in and have been able to keep them so that we haven't been short staffed but they're trying to take that away from us, which would take us to where we were before: very short staffed and our inmates not being properly taken care of."
Union officials also say PHS has started an intimidation campaign against workers, including issuing notice of a seven day lock-out following today's action. Chatman says despite the threat of a lock-out, they'll attempt to return to work Wednesday. Union officials are scheduled to resume negotiations with Prison Health Services on Thursday.