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California nursing staff seeks fair wages, better staffing and working conditions

Irma Bandala Castro, a certified nurse assistant, talks about sub-par working conditions at Burlingame Skilled Nursing. Photo credit: Andrew Dudenbostel.
By AFSCME Staff ·

Front-line workers at Burlingame Skilled Nursing in Burlingame, Calif., held a news conference this week to demand fair wages, improved staffing and better working conditions, among other things.

The members of AFSCME Local 829 (Council 57) have been in contract negotiations with their employer since April.

“I got injured two months ago. … They put one person from laundry to do housekeeping,” said Irma Bandala Castro, a certified nursing assistant at the facility, which is owned by Brius Healthcare. “They’re not training them to do housekeeping … and I wound up getting injured. I have insurance from my husband. I cannot afford the insurance from [Brius] because it is so expensive.”

The front-line workers include licensed vocational nurses, nursing assistants, cooks, dietary aides, housekeepers, laundry aides and more. They are demanding that management remedy staffing shortages and crippling caseloads caused by unlivable wages and skyrocketing health care costs.

“Sometimes I look at management, and I’m wondering: how much money are they making?” Castro said. “How much are they putting in their pockets while we’re struggling to pay rent?”

Members of the community, including elected officials, came out in support of the workers.

“These folks are overworked and underpaid,” said Diane Papan, deputy mayor of San Mateo. “They’re doing noble work. Let’s hear from management, let’s get more workers inside, and let’s get more pay and benefits for people that are treating our most vulnerable with dignity. It’s time that [they] be treated with dignity.”

Menlo Park City Councilmember Ray Mueller said inequality is an ongoing crisis in Silicon Valley.

“We see that gap between those who have and those who have not, and it’s getting worse every year,” he said. “Today, we see it squeezing our skilled nursing workers who are taking care of our seniors. And that climate is costing them out. Those who profited during that, who had all that rescue money come down during the pandemic, they’re not sharing. They’re holding on to those profits, and they’re turning their backs on those who are most at risk as this pandemic continues.”

Brius, the largest for-profit nursing home operator in California, has a history of worker mistreatment. In early 2021, as coronavirus cases surged across the state, the company ignored the Burlingame workers’ pleas for better staffing ratios and higher wages, even as the workers put their lives on the line to serve patients.

In February 2021, the workers went on strike, having reached an impasse with their employer.

Local 829 is made up of San Mateo County, Calif., workers, including emergency dispatchers, social workers, health care workers, school counselors and more.

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