During labor negotiations dialysis caregivers to picket Fresenius Kidney Care, Satellite Healthcare over understaffing, low-wages, patient care crisis

At Antioch and other locations in California; Fresenius says they’re “committed to bargaining in good faith”

By Renée Saldaña, SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW)

Fresenius and Satellite Healthcare dialysis caregivers across California are the latest round of healthcare workers to join statewide protests over the short-staffing crisis in the state’s healthcare system. Protests will be held on August 9th and 10th at 21 locations, including Antioch, San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Riverside, and Orange.

“We are severely understaffed and stretched so thin. We used to have a one to three patient ratio, but over the years it’s become one to eight, and if someone calls out sick it becomes one to twelve. It happens a lot,” says Jose Manuel Gonzalez, a certified hemodialysis technician preceptor III at Fresenius Kidney Care for over 25 years. “We have to rush, to work as fast as we can, and the quality of service really suffers. I’m considering patient care, regardless of how the company treats us. The company should care more.”

In response to caregivers’ attempts to improve care and safety for dialysis patients, management has violated United States labor law. Both employers have threatened and intimidated caregivers, including firing caregivers for leading the organizing efforts and speaking out to improve patient care. The union has filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board against both companies for these illegal acts, including one against Satellite Healthcare for canceling all bargaining sessions scheduled for July and August. 

Legislators are also lending their support to the struggle of dialysis caregivers to improve conditions. In a letter of support, U.S. Representative Robert Garcia (D-CA-42), wrote:

“Across the industry, I understand that dialysis clinic caregivers continue to struggle with low wages, inadequate training, and chronically low staffing levels. These working conditions often lead to high turnover as caregivers leave the industry because of burnout or transfer to another healthcare sector where pay is higher. These factors deprive patients of experienced and consistent support.”

The ongoing protests by dialysis and other healthcare workers are part of a larger movement of workers across the country who are taking a stand against poor working conditions, low wages, exorbitant corporate profits, and excessive executive pay. Dialysis workers are joining over 85,000 Kaiser Permanente, Prime, and other healthcare workers who launched protests in July to improve patient care and staffing.

The chronic short-staffing in dialysis care has allowed for-profit dialysis corporations to make hundreds of millions in profits. Fresenius medical care made nearly $720 million in profits and paid its CEO nearly $5 million in compensation in 2022. Satellite Healthcare made $16.7 million in profits and paid its CEO $1.5 million in compensation in 2021.

In contrast, many dialysis caregivers make as little as $20 an hour and routinely hold two or more jobs just to make ends meet.

SEIU-UHW represents more than 600 dialysis caregivers at Fresenius and Satellite Healthcare in various job classes including registered nurses, patient care technicians, licensed vocational nurses, certified clinical hemodialysis technicians, dietitians, social workers, clinical administrative coordinators, and receptionists.

SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) is a healthcare justice union of more than 100,000 healthcare workers, patients, and healthcare activists united to ensure affordable, accessible, high-quality care for all Californians, provided by valued and respected healthcare workers. Learn more at www.seiu-uhw.org.

Fresenius Kidney Care Responds

In response, Fresenius issued the following statement: “There is nothing more important than the safety of our patients and our team members. In fact, in 2022, for the seventh consecutive year, Fresenius Kidney Care led the industry with 99.63% of our facilities, achieving 5-Diamond Patient Safety status, a program endorsed by the American Nephrology Nurses’ Association (ANNA) and several other organizations in the industry.  

We use a staffing tool to align staffing needs with patient care requirements in order to provide safe and effective care. We constantly monitor census and staffing fluctuations and redeploy staff accordingly to maintain safe staffing levels. We maintain staff float pools and use both internal and external agency support to fill gaps.

Healthcare as an industry in general continues to face staffing challenges. We continue to address the recruitment needs where we provide care and are actively hiring for clinical care roles. 

We recently began negotiations with SEIU-UHW and are committed to bargaining in good faith to reach agreements that are fair to team members and enable Fresenius Kidney Care to continue its mission of providing life-sustaining care to patients. 

We fully believe that the dedication and passion of all our team members should be recognized and rewarded. That’s why we offer competitive compensation, benefits and development programs that support our team members personally and professionally.”

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