Jail health care workers locked out after strike

Shortly after 6 a.m. today, workers began to arrive at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin but were turned away by Bill Wilson, administrator for Tennessee-based Prison Health Services, which contracts with Alameda County to provide health care at the two jails, according to Carolyn Arnold, a nurse at Santa Rita.

Prison Health Services released a statement this morning saying the company is using temporary workers until March 16 "or until we reach a settlement with the union, whichever comes first."

Arnold and other members of Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers-West are scheduled to meet with PHS officials for negotiations Thursday morning.

The contract between the 143 health care workers and PHS expired in December 2009, and negotiations for a new contract have been under way for nearly six months.

At issue is a proposal to increase deductibles and co-pays in the employees' health care plans, according to Arnold.

"We're willing to negotiate with them," but PHS "needs to kind of work with us also and bargain in good faith," she said. "We want to go back to work, and they're stopping us from going to work."

Arnold said that along with their own health considerations, the nurses are also "really concerned about the inmate care that's being given while we're out here."

She said the temporary workers "are nurses that don't know the inmates, and don't know the procedures or protocol" at the jails.

After the workers began striking Tuesday morning, PHS released a statement saying the salaries of their nurses range between 24 percent and 64 percent higher than comparable registered nurse salaries in the Bay Area, and that PHS "remains committed to a fair, reasonable and competitive contract."

In response to the lockout, dozens of workers were picketing outside Santa Rita Jail, and others were protesting outside the Glenn Dyer Detention Center in Oakland, SEIU-UHW-West spokeswoman Adriana Surfas said.

The workers will also hold a candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. today at the Glenn Dyer Facility. Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley is expected to attend, according to Surfas.

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