Over 3,000 workers at Alameda Health System (AHS) went back to work October 12 after holding a five-day strike. Healthcare workers from seven different facilities, including Highland Hospital, walked out on Wednesday, October 7. Members in the different unions, including SEIU 1021, CNA, and ILWU, all held joint pickets and rallies throughout the five days of the strike.
After a majority vote in favor of the strike, it was obvious that a significant number of the workers at AHS were fed up with the disrespect and threats coming from the administration. The list of over 30 takeaways proposed by management included egregious attacks such as a wage freeze, a 10 percent payment into the currently fully covered healthcare plan, removal of a night shift pay differential, disregard of seniority rules, and layoffs, among others.
The feeling at the picket lines reflected the same anger that led people to vote to go out on strike, but there was also a festive, jovial, and excited feeling that came from people coming together and saying in unison, “Enough is enough!” Each day people gathered at the different locations from 6:30 in the morning until late in the evening to picket in front of their workplaces, holding signs, talking to each other, and sharing an experience that hadn’t taken place since 2004.
On Wednesday, the first day of the strike, over 300 people united in front of Highland Hospital and held a rally and a march around the facility. There was music, dancing, chanting, with workers from all different departments and facilities coming together, some for the first time ever. On Thursday, another rally was held in front of the office of the County Board of Supervisors. In response, during the rally, representatives of the Board took an important step by stating that they were in agreement with the workers’ demands to remove the independent Board of Trustees currently responsible for managing the health system, and whom many workers and the unions argue is at fault for the system’s current dire conditions. With many cheers and applause, workers welcomed the news.
On Friday and Saturday, car rallies were organized, with dozens of cars parading around the different AHS facilities honking horns and waving signs. On the last day, due to safety measures related to COVID-19, the unions decided to hold all strike activity online. The plan now is for bargaining teams to go back to the bargaining table, with a new negotiation team for AHS selected by the Board of Supervisors, and for the union to lay out its specific demands, starting with completely removing the long list of takeaways proposed by management.
Despite the complications that a pandemic presented, and the chronic level of exhaustion that these healthcare workers endure, they showed just how much we are capable of when we have a goal in sight. The fight for a better contract and a safe workplace is far from over, but the links and connections made during the strike can be the fuel to energize the battles to come.