Contact: Renée Saldaña, [email protected]
February 1, 2024 – Yesterday, dialysis caregivers with SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) held a press conference on Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers on the understaffing crisis in dialysis care and ask them to investigate the company’s labor practices. Key Congressional leaders including Representatives Zoe Lofgren, Adam Schiff, and Katie Porter attended and spoke out about the serious issues caregivers face. The caregivers are organizing to improve dialysis work both for themselves and their patients, particularly to address the understaffing crisis.
The companies where caregivers are organizing – Fresenius, DaVita, and Satellite Healthcare – have responded to the caregivers’ organizing with illegal threats and retaliation. In September, Fresenius and Satellite caregivers went on strike to protest their employers’ labor law violations. Additionally, caregivers organizing with SEIU-UHW at DaVita have filed charges accusing the company of serious labor law violations; the company has already closed down at least one facility where organizing activity occurred.
Fresenius is the largest provider of dialysis services to the Federal government and since 2014 has received more than $2 billion in revenue from contracts with the Veterans Administration (VA) for outpatient dialysis. Since 2014, the VA has awarded DaVita contracts worth approximately $1.5 billion for outpatient dialysis services. Kidney disease impacts 1 in 7 Americans, and 1 in 6 veterans, including more than 40,000 VA-enrolled veterans.
Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), the Chair of the California Democratic Congressional Delegation, said, “What these workers do to provide this vital treatment has been rewarded with overwork and underpay. These massive companies have not bargained in good faith. And that’s simply wrong. Not just wrong for these hard working individuals, but for their patients because a quality workforce is essential for quality care, and you need to treat employees properly so that they can provide the care that’s needed.”
Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) expressed his concerns: “Given the critical role that dialysis plays in keeping patients with kidney failure alive, it is a travesty that the healthcare workers who care for our veterans and all of our citizens are underpaid and short staffed in a nation as prosperous as the United States of America. It is a moral stain on the country that the quality of life saving care, including for our veterans, can be undermined by corporations who make billions of dollars in profits per year.”
Congresswoman Katie Porter (D-CA) condemned the companies’ conduct, stating “DaVita and Fresenius are America’s two largest dialysis companies. And they have been cheating patients, taxpayers and workers for far too long. I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with SEIU–UHW, which is a real partner in how we hold big corporations accountable.”
RN Alan Faustino, an Air Force Veteran, said, “It’s hard to see fellow veteran patients in my clinic not getting the proper care due to short staffing issues while the company puts profits over patient care. The worst part is these companies are causing all this suffering because of money. Our tax dollars go back to the CEOs pockets so they can keep underpaying us. We are here to ask our legislators to hold these companies accountable.”
“I have been caring for dialysis patients for 25 years, and for 18 of those years I had to work for both DaVita and Fresenius as a full time employee, at the same time. I was working six 12 hour shifts every week just to make ends meet.” says Manny Gonzalez, a Dialysis Technician working for Fresenius. “When I started in dialysis, the ratio was three patients for one worker. Over time, the big corporations bought all these private companies, and the ratio quickly went up: four to one, five to one… sometimes we wind up with eight patients or even ten. And every patient deserves 100%.”
RN Yunis Cortez shared, “I’ve talked to management many times myself about the staffing issues. They make promises but things never change. They tried to persuade us not to be unionized. At other clinics, they made threats, they made promises, they fired people. […] But I am proud that my clinic was the first dialysis clinic to join the union.”
“Kidney failure can happen to anyone. There are currently over half a million people on dialysis in America. As a former dialysis patient, I am proud to support the union and the dialysis teams that kept me safe and alive,” said former dialysis patient Carmen Cartagena. “The quality of care has greatly diminished, and this is by no means the staff’s fault. The fault lies with the corporation’s greed that puts profits over patient care.”
Investigative journalist Tom Mueller, author of the dialysis exposé How to Make a Killing: Blood, Death, and Dollars in American Medicine, says, “We can and must do better for patients who need good dialysis, to stay alive, to thrive and to go on with their lives. We can and must do better for dialysis workers, who all too often, as my book makes clear, are also victims of a for profit and profit driven system. And we can and must do better for taxpayers, because dialysis is Medicare for all, and we the taxpayers are footing much of the bill.”
Video of the full press conference is available at: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1422380465034215&ref=sharing
For additional background on the workers’ conditions and the government filings they have made, please refer to https://www.seiu-uhw.org/campaigns/dialysis.