Challenging Goliath

Marianne Paiva is a fourth-generation Chicoan and graduate of Chico State University who teaches sociology at Shasta College.

Talk of unionization of Enloe Medical Center staff is running rampant in the hallways of the monopolistic medical facility these days. The registered nurses paved the path for unionization when they voted in union representation several years ago. Very few people believed the staff would also entertain a Marxian rebellion in Chico’s only acute-inpatient facility, but in a few short weeks votes could be cast that would bring the union to licensed and certified nursing staff and non-nursing staff.

Striking fear in the hearts of management, the union promises to equalize wages (rumored in some departments to be as much as one-quarter lower than similar hospitals in similar positions with similar cost-of-living expenses), standardize working conditions and provide power to the voices of the masses who are employed at Enloe.

Recent cutbacks, lowering employee insurance benefits and outsourcing have stimulated a significant turnover of seasoned employees in the past few years. Once considered the epitome of employment, Enloe has become a pariah, with nurses, paramedics, middle management, receptionists, supply personnel and housekeeping turning down promotions, quitting and moving to greener pastures.

With the job market in Chico being so competitive today and Enloe the only game in town, new employees are still lining up to work there, at least temporarily staving off the inevitable understaffing crisis.

The mass migration of high-caliber employees might not distress management, who save money in the short term by hiring replacements at significantly lower wages than the departing employees, but for the community, we are suffering greatly.

The loss of seasoned employees due to high turnover rates lowers the overall quality of health care in the community. Licensed nurses with 10-20 years of experience and paramedics who used to call Enloe home are being replaced by new graduates who may be technically trained but have yet to develop the instincts and reflexes of their predecessors. For many in the hospital, workloads have increased greatly while wages have hit a plateau. The stress of not knowing whose job will be “outsourced” next and the general insecure atmosphere has forced hometown men and women to flee to far-flung locales.

Consistent disregard of employee concerns has fueled the current push for union organization. While the union may not be the answer to Enloe’s current staffing problems, to many this may appear to be the last bastion of hope for positive employee relations. If the union does not establish itself with Enloe staff, we can only hope, as members of the community, that Enloe’s management will finally address the concerns of its employees.