News Watch

VNA Santa Cruz Therapists Unionize

SANTA CRUZ, CA -- Under the terms of a contract recently ratified by home health care workers employed by Sutter Care at Home/Visiting Nurses Association of Santa Cruz, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and medical social workers received a 5% wage increase Jan. 3.

This is the first of five increases, according to a release.

The group of 20 therapists, represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, bargained with Sutter for two years.

"This is a huge victory that shows how much physical and occupational therapists can achieve when they join a professional labor union," said VNA Santa Cruz physical therapist Frank Wolsfeld. "It is extremely rare for private-sector physical therapists to unionize, and for too long our wages have reflected this lack of representation. By forming a union and standing up for ourselves, we were able to achieve substantial wage increases."

"We made good progress towards our real goal of getting equal pay with that of our nurses," said physical therapist Gaye Kihorany, "and we intend to achieve that goal by the end of our next contract."

"Fifteen to 20 years ago, physical therapists made 20 percent more than registered nurses," said NUHW President Sal Rosselli. "Today it is the reverse, because nurses have formed strong unions and advocated for themselves. The home health care workers at VNA Santa Cruz are now doing the same and with great success."

The contract also included increased paid time off, a $700 ratification bonus, improvements with job protection including "just cause" language, and a grievance procedure that includes binding arbitration.

NUHW also represents workers at Sutter's flagship hospital and California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, as well as workers at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital and Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital in Hollister.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers represents 11,000 healthcare workers in California, including nearly 1,000 caregivers in Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Benito counties.

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