USC Employees set to strike at Keck Medical Center

Keck workers seeking higher wages and better benefits will protest this Wednesday.

About 900 caregivers will go on strike this Wednesday against the University of Southern California's Keck Medical Center. A delegation of workers delivered a letter Monday signed by community groups and clergy to USC President Nikias' office.

The caregivers are protesting against staffing cuts that jeopardize patients, poverty wages and unaffordable health insurance.

"The wages and medical costs that we have to pay out leaves us with hardly anything to provide for our families," said Judy Oliva, a grill cook with Sodexo. "They offered us within three years, a raise of 22 cents, but most of us don't even make over $15 an hour."

Oliva explained how difficult it is for her to make ends meet with her current earnings.

"I have to have medical insurance because my husband is diabetic," she said. "With [what's left], trying to buy groceries, pay your utilities, your mortgage; I'm lucky to have $20 in my bank account."

The challenges Oliva described are typical of caregivers at Keck. In order to improve their lives, Keck employees are insisting they be treated like other USC workers.

"We're not asking for anything more than what the nurses and other employees are getting," said Curtis Robinson, a housekeeping surgery worker. "We want to be paid across the board. We're fighting for [free] tuition [to USC and its affiliate campuses]."

Many workers are hoping that after going on strike Wednesday, Keck will begin to seriously consider the issues they confront.

"I want them to know that we do matter. We work hard," Oliva said. "We are expected to work overtime. We give customer service to the doctors, employees and family members. We work 110 percent and we need them to take us seriously"

But some workers, like Alex Corea, a respiratory therapist, believe it's going to take more than a one-day strike for Keck to make any significant changes.

"I think that if we're going to be serious about this, it's going to take at least a 10-day strike to be brought up to par with what other workers have obtained," he said. "If we strike for one day and it makes an impact, then they are going to come to the table with crumbs. They're not going to come back with the whole package."

Robinson, who went on strike against Keck before, however, is convinced that Wednesday's strike will make an impact.

"We went on strike I believe about three years ago. We did a one-day strike where we threatened to strike for three days," he said. "USC came through. Hopefully this time, USC sees that we want to provide good patient care… and they go back to the table and try to negotiate a contract."

Wednesday's strike will not be any sort of anomaly for Keck's Hospital. Back in 2011, employees were protesting against similar conditions that "compromised patient care" and plans to impose a one-year wage freeze.

This time around, Keck employees are asking to be treated like members of the Trojan family.

"We're tired of being treated like second-class citizens under the university," Corea said. "We thought that we would be entitled to the same benefits that USC provides to all its members. But, we found out very shortly and quickly that was not the case."

Update: Keck Hospital of USC released a statement on the strike:

"The Union has rejected the Hospital's wage proposal and is demanding that the Hospital provide education benefits not available to any other represented group within the Keck Health System. Any allegations that our refusal to concede on this benefit is discriminatory are patently untrue."

The rest of the statement can be found here.

Reach Staff Reporter Marina Peña here and follow her on Twitter here.