KPC Health workers, management reach tentative labor agreement

Workers and management at KPC Health have reached a tentative labor agreement that boosts wages at six KPC facilities across Orange County and the Inland Empire while also addressing concerns over short staffing and high turnover.

The move came late Thursday, narrowly averting a five-day strike that was scheduled to begin Monday, Sept. 26.

The more than 1,400 KPC employees — including respiratory therapists, licensed vocational nurses, radiology technologists, food service workers, operating room and emergency room technicians and others — are represented by SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West. Their contract expired July 13.

They work at Victor Valley Global Medical Center in Victorville, Anaheim Global Medical Center, Chapman Global Medical Center in Orange, South Coast Global Medical Center in Santa Ana, Hemet Global Medical Center and Menifee Valley Medical Center.

Employees say the tentative agreement should make a difference.

“We’ve had such a hard time keeping good healthcare workers at our hospital,” said Mychelle Ramey, a respiratory therapist at South Coast Global Medical Center. “New employees come in, but between the tough, risky workload and the low pay, they quickly move on to better-paying jobs, sometimes in a matter of weeks.”

Once the agreement is finalized, KPC will have a better shot at attracting and retaining good caregivers, Ramey said, which means safer care for patients and the community.

Representatives with KPC, a for-profit, nationwide healthcare chain, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Some KPC workers are earning a starting wage of $15 an hour and the new contract that would raise that to $18, union officials said.

“This would also include wage increases of 3% to 7% the first year of the three-year contract and increases of 3% to 5% the second year,” SEIU spokesman Tom Parker said.

Additional pay hikes would be considered in the third year, he said, although they have yet to be determined.

“The biggest thing is they never had a unified wage scale before,” Parker said. “So someone who had been working at a KPC facility for 10, or even 20 years, might end up making less than a new hire. This will fix that.”

Jessica Meinert, an emergency room tech at Hemet Global Medical Center, said she earns $15.50 an hour with no medical benefits, although she gets paid time off for vacations and holidays.

“This new contract would be a substantial jump, not only for me but for others on the low end of the wage scale,” the 33-year-old Hemet resident said.

Meinert said KPC workers have been dealing with staffing shortages across the board.

“We’re not competitive enough,” she said. “The pay is low and we don’t have enough benefits for people to stay. We have people who are hired here straight out of school. They come to work here and then leave after six months.”