Hospital security guards in California have gone on strike, citing poor working conditions and lack of health coverage.
About 200 Southern California employees of Inter-Con Security, which is contracted by Kaiser Permanente to provide security guards, recently joined their Northern California counterparts who have been on strike since May 6, Service Employees International Union officials said.
The company said in a statement that despite the picketing, the affected hospitals were fully staffed.
"The SEIU has not provided any legal showing that it represents Inter-Con Security officers, nor has the union asked for an election," the statement said.
The company added that it believes the strike is illegal, and it has filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
SEIU officials countered the claim, saying they have approached both Inter-Con and Kaiser and have not had a satisfactory response.
"They left us no choice but to go on strike," said Jennifer Kelly, union spokeswoman.
About 20 workers picketed outside the Baldwin Park Kaiser Permante on Thursday, chanting slogans and carrying signs that read "Our community supports security officers" and "Justice for Inter-Con Security officers," while cheering and waving at drivers who honked in support.
"Even though they work at hospitals, they can't get health care when they need it," Kelly said. "They're the only Kaiser workers who don't have a union."
The guards said they want a union, but have endured intimidation by Inter-Con in pursuing the goal.
Workers also said they are underpaid, earning only $9.05 an hour without raises, even for longtime employees. They said they are denied sick pay and bereavement leave.
Salvador Recendez, Jr., a striking employee, said his grandfather in Puerto Rico died a month ago and he was not able to go to the funeral because he was not provided bereavement pay.
Others said they are not compensated for the work they do.
"We are the first to respond to anything and we are not even armed," said Toni Piechowski, an officer for three years. "We are putting our lives on the line."
Security guards have little legal recourse when they are denied the right to organize, an SEIU attorney said. A loophole in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 gives security guards only one method of forming a union.
While most employees have the option of holding an election to bring in a union, security guards can only organize if their employers agree to recognize the union, said attorney Orrin Baird.
"It's sort of out-dated," Baird said. "If they were not guards they could file a petition with the (National Labor Relations Board) and then they would have to have an election."
A Kaiser spokeswoman said security has not been compromised by the strike at any of the Kaiser sites.
"We are very pleased to say that with the activity today, all of our facilities are being staffed, so there hasn't been any interference or safety issues," said Socorro Serrano, Kaiser spokeswoman. "We are remaining neutral on this and hope that (Inter-Con and the union) come to an agreement very soon."
Serrano said Inter-Con guards are often posted at entrances and check-in desks. They answer questions and also provide visual security.
"The security officers at our facilities are very professional and very helpful to members when they come in," she said.