“Hands off our PTO,” protesters chant in front of the Keck Hospital of University of Southern California. Amongst the protesters are nurses, children and even a costumed-robot holding a sign that reads “Hands off kin care.”
Around 300 caregivers and hospital employees protested the hospital’s policy changes regarding sick leave on Tuesday.
“My whole gripe with this whole thing is cutting kin care hours—or lumping in kin care hours with our PTO hours,” said Ken Zoleta, a hospital employee protesting the new policy. “You’re telling me if my daughter gets sick, or if my wife gets sick, then I’m only allowed 96 hours in a full year?”
The protesters allege that the university hospital wants to limit paid-sick leave to 96 hours, eliminating kin care, a state-mandated law that allows workers to use half of the hours in paid-sick leave to take care of their family. The new policy will combine vacation and paid sick time together, making it harder for healthcare employees to take care of their sick children, parents and family members, said the National Union of Healthcare Workers.
In a statement to Annenberg Media, the Keck Medicine of USC refuted the caregivers’ allegations.
“The updated policy provides more sick and kin care leave than required by both federal and state law, and allows employees time off for personal and family illness,” the statement said. “Additionally, Keck Medicine complies with all federal and state laws regarding protected leaves of absence.”
William Sargeant, the chief operating officer of the hospital, said the policy changes were enacted to help workers.
“Really, what we wanted to do is provide a consistent policy that allows the employees to take their sick leave and to use kin care in a fashion that actually allows more use than state law or city law requires,” Sargeant said.
At the hospital campus on Tuesday, protesters drummed and walked in lines with picket-signs saying, “Don’t make us come to work sick!” The union workers and protesters were demanding that the hospital remove the new policy changes and negotiate on new terms.
“What we hope to achieve is that the hospital will retract that policy... sit down and talk to us, and reevaluate the situation,” said Rudy Cullear, employee. “We’re fighting for the right of, not just the nurses, but the patients too.”
Sargeant says that the hospital administration is currently negotiating with the union and protesters
“We have been actively engaged in responding. As a matter of fact, there have been listening sessions over the past several weeks since we announced this policy,” said Sargeant. “We invite further discussion so that we can help inform … [and] look at the impact of this policy.”