Community clinic hit with one-day strike

June 24, 2009 6:53:21 PM PDT
Health care workers walked off their jobs to make a point, but the non-profit they work for insists the union is demanding more than it can afford to give.

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The union signs carry a message: The one percent pay raise proposal is a number that belongs on a milk carton.

"There are people that have been here for 18, 19, 20 years and haven't received a raise since the 10th anniversary and to me that is just not right, it's unfair," said clinic case manager Berta Adame.

More than 100 health care workers staged a one-day walkout against Tiburcio Vasquez Community Clinics in Alameda County. The non-profit serves about 20,000 low income people and government funding is being cut at every level.

"It's completely about the money. Obviously it's economic issues and if you have nothing coming in to meet demands, we cannot promise what we don't have. We all have to stay within our means," said Clinic CEO Joel Garcia.

Failed negotiations mean clinic employees have been without a contract for 14 months.

Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center has been serving the community for 38 years. This is the first time contract negotiations have deteriorated to this level.

Senior management covered the clinics as best they could on Wednesday but patients were caught in the middle.

"I will come back again to try to get another appointment as soon as we can," said clinic patient Elva Tamayo.

A one-day strike is manageable, but the CEO says he's worried economic pressure from all fronts could force the non-profit to collapse for good.

"Essentially people who have no insurance, no coverage, having nowhere to go," said Garcia.

Garcia's employees accuse him of using the economy to engage in unfair contract talks. The union is standing firm on demands such as bilingual pay.

"We deserve compensation for that and we deserve to be respected for what we do each and every day," said clinic medical assistant Johnny Hernandez.

The war of words in labor disputes has a new player and a common enemy -- the economy.

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