Lowest-paid Enloe workers to strike

Frustrated by stalled negotiations and low pay, food services and housekeeping workers at Enloe Medical Center have called for a one-day strike to be held beginning at 5:30 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 2.

The workers are employed by Compass, a Charlotte, N.C., firm to which Enloe contracted out some services two years ago. More than a year ago, employees voted to gain union representation through the Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers West. The union says that unless a contract agreement is reached, 120 employees plan to participate in the strike, a “work action” that is protected by law.

Linda Thompson, who has worked as a cook at Enloe for five years, said in an interview she is a little nervous about the impending strike, but, “We’re just kind of tired. They won’t ever budge to talk to us.”

She said things have gone downhill since the dietary services division was farmed out. “There is no holiday pay, for one,” she said. “This is my third year without a raise whatsoever.” And health benefits, which both Compass and Enloe had said would remain equitable with those of Enloe employees, involve both higher co-pays and deductibles.

“We don’t make enough to support our families,” said Josefina Carrillo, who has worked at Enloe for 12 years. Many workers are on public assistance because they can’t afford the health insurance premiums, she said.

At a press conference held Aug. 23, leaders of other local unions showed up to support the Compass workers.

Andy Holcombe, who sits on the Chico City Council, urged both Compass and Enloe to negotiate fairly with employees. “The labor movement is part of the Enloe family. They need to recognize that.”

Following the event, representatives delivered legal notice of the “unfair labor practices strike” to Compass and Enloe officials.

A prepared statement from Compass Group, which has 150,000 employees in the United States and Canada, said the company is returning to negotiations Aug. 30 and will “continue to bargain in good faith.”

“Though we are currently assessing the situation, we will pursue all legal options available to provide continued and uninterrupted services to the patients, staff and administration of Enloe Medical Center,” the statement read.

Carol Linscheid, vice president of human relations for Enloe, said, “Compass has assured us that they have a plan in place so service won’t be disrupted.”

Linscheid said her research indicates that pay, benefits and working conditions are virtually identical under Compass to what they were under Enloe, with the exception of the lack of time and one-half for holidays. “One of [Enloe’s] criteria for selecting a vendor was that it could keep these employees fairly whole,” she said. “For the Chico area, Compass pays well.”