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Healthcare workers stage 1-day walkout at Santa Rita county jail

Private contractor they work for calls action illegal, threatens lockout

Nurses, physician's assistants, dental assistants and others who provide medical care at Alameda County's two correctional facilities staged a one-day walkout yesterday, charging their private employer with unfair labor practices over staffing levels and workplace safety at the facilities.

The workers said they will return to work today.

The workers are members of the United Healthcare Workers-West (SEIU-UHW), part of the Service Employees International Union, a national union with 2.1 million members. Yesterday morning, they were joined on the picket line by SEIU International President Andy Stern.

Healthcare services at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin and at the Glenn Dyer Detention Center are contracted out to Prison Health Services, a Tennessee-based for-profit corporation. It holds a $77 million, three-year contract with Alameda County to provide medical services at the two facilities.

"This is about the selfishness of an out-of-state corporation--Prison Health Services--with earnings of over a half-a-billion dollars that is pocketing taxpayer dollars instead of using the money to benefit the county and our people as it promised," said Maxine Persky, a nurse at the Santa Rita Jail for 10 years.

In a statement signed by Adriana Surfas of the SEIU-UHW, the union accused Prison Health Services of launching "a campaign of threats and intimidation against workers including notifying employees of a seven-day illegal lock-out following Tuesday's planned one-day strike, and cancelled workers' approved vacations."

The union statement also said that in its contract with the Alameda County, Prison Health Services budgeted for a 10 percent increase in wages and healthcare benefits in years two and three of its county contract.

"Instead of using this taxpayer money to maintain wages and benefits, PHS proposes pocketing the money and increasing worker health insurance premiums--costing many workers nearly $3,000 a year more than they currently pay, and for inferior coverage. The 10 percent is more than enough to cover the costs of maintaining the current health insurance premiums and plan."

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