John Muir Behavioral Health Workers Call Out Employer for Ignoring COVID Safety Protocol Concerns to Suppress Unionization Efforts

As workers at John Muir Behavioral Health Center become increasingly concerned about workplace and patient safety, they say their employer has been putting staff and clients at risk to discourage organizing efforts

John Muir Behavioral Health Workers Call Out Employer for Ignoring COVID Safety Protocol Concerns to Suppress Unionization Efforts

As workers at John Muir Behavioral Health Center become increasingly concerned about workplace and patient safety, they say their employer has been putting staff and clients at risk to discourage organizing efforts

For immediate release:
January 19, 2021

OAKLAND, Calif. – Workers at John Muir Behavioral Health Center, which is a part of John Muir Health System — named the costliest hospital system in the nation — say that their employer is attempting to silence them as they have witnessed a blatant disregard for public health recommendations and best practices as they care for psychiatric patients during the pandemic.

Employees at John Muir Behavior Health Center say management ignores their concerns about safety protocols. They are worried about client, community, and staff safety as their employer forces them to attend in-person meetings where they have been exposed to COVID-19.

“Management refuses to listen to us, the frontline workers, and it seems we have another COVID-19 incident every week. Workers are brought into small conference rooms for mandatory, anti-unionization meetings in groups without being tested,” said Haley Arterberry, a mental health counselor at the facility. “Recently, nine people were in a meeting with a co-worker who later tested positive, so they were all exposed. Then they want us to come to work after being exposed to COVID-19 while we’re waiting for our tests to come back.”

In contrast to general healthcare settings, employees at behavioral health facilities experience unique prevention and infection control challenges. Employees at John Muir Behavioral Health Center say patients with serious mental illness, particularly those who are older, younger, or who have chronic medical conditions, can be either higher risk for illness with COVID-19 or unknowing contributors to its spread. Some behavioral health patients are less likely to comply with pandemic safety protocols, often without any fault of their own.

“Because of the nature of our client population, we often have to manage resources differently or not utilize them at all when compared to regular hospitals, alcohol-based sanitizers for example,” said Mawuko Tugbenyoh, a mental health counselor at the facility. “Social distancing can be difficult in these facilities, and there’s an extra layer of anxiety and worry, like, what am I going to walk into today?”

Workers at John Muir Behavioral Health Center filed a petition to form a union with SEIU-UHW in December.

Employees want to work with John Muir Health to:

  • Improve facility safeguards
  • Ensure access to proper PPE, including N95 masks, for all staff daily
  • Maintain safe staffing levels
  • Provide on-demand and regularly scheduled COVID-19 testing of all employees
  • Comply with best practices as provided by the Center for Disease Control, the California Department of Public Health, and the Contra Costa County Health Department

John Muir Health received $43 million in taxpayer bailout money from the CARES Act of 2020. The Chief Executive Officer of John Muir Health was paid $3.9 million in 2018.

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CONTACT: Renée Saldaña, (213) 479-5137, Rsaldana@seiu-uhw.org

SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) is one of the largest unions of hospital workers in the United States, with 97,000 members.