Hundreds of Maui County healthcare workers leave jobs to strike as hospitals feel ripple effect
February 23, 2023, 6:00 AM HST
* Updated February 25, 7:30 AM
Hundreds of healthcare workers left their jobs at key hospitals around Maui County on Wednesday to strike over better pay. And although Maui Health echoed that services will continue as scheduled, there was a report of patient impacts tied to the strike.
An important medical procedure scheduled in advance for an elderly Maui patient was canceled Wednesday due to the strike, according to the patient’s family member, who asked to remain anonymous due to possible repercussions.
The family member pleaded that Maui Health management find a swift solution so the community can feel safe again.
“I don’t feel safe,” the Maui resident said. “Is (Maui Health) being responsible if we have emergencies?”
However, Maui Health spokesperson Tracy Dallarda told Maui Now on Wednesday night that she received confirmation “there has been no interruption to procedures or services.”
“According to our internal operational sources, that is not accurate,” Dallarda said in response to a claim that a procedure was canceled.
Nearly 500 frontline healthcare workers planned to begin their strike Wednesday at three Maui Health locations: Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kula Hospital and Lānaʻi Community Hospital. Those on strike include Maui Health respiratory therapists, transporters, housekeeping, laundry, nurse aides, ER techs, landscaping, bus drivers, cooks and others who are represented by United Public Workers AFSCME, Local 646, AFL-CIO.
During the first day of the strike, healthcare workers carried signs and circled the entrance to Maui’s main hospital, Maui Memorial Medical Center, in Wailuku. Hundreds of staffers, many in scrubs, congregated at various entrances, with some dancing, waving, sitting or cheering.
Even though she’s not represented by the union on strike, Angela Weldon, a charge nurse on the hospital’s fifth floor, joined the demonstration on her day off to show support.
Weldon said the strike is being felt across the hospital.
“Hells yeah it’s going to have an impact,” she said. “I have to go to work tomorrow night and I’m scared.”
Valerie Sanchez, a surgical tech who works in the hospital’s operating room, said that she and others are striking for better pay. Some co-workers, such as operating room housekeepers, don’t even make $20 an hour, she said.
“And yet (my co-worker) is the one in most danger, who’s dealing with all the blood and different things in the operating room after surgery — that’s her cleaning it. They are the ones that break my heart. They work so hard,” Sanchez said. “Without a clean operating room, we can’t do surgery. Without clean instruments and sterilized instruments, we can’t do surgery. So it’s a whole team effort.”
After 97.6% of the union’s Maui Health members voted to strike, the administration received a strike notice Feb. 10. Members are seeking better pay, reasonable shifts and other terms.
Maleko McDonnell, communications manager for the union, said the overwhelming support to strike sends a “strong message.” The staff has been overworked and underpaid through the pandemic, and now the members “have had enough.”
“They have very simple requests: They want fair pay. They want a wage that allows them to live in an apartment, not even own a house, just live in an apartment on Maui without having to work more than one job,” he said.
McDonnell added that the hospital won’t be able to continue to operate with a sizable reduction in staff.
“When any size business loses 500 employees to a picket, it’s going to have a detrimental effect on day-to-day business,” he said. “I don’t know how long the hospital can continue to operate that way. I hope that the desired effect is they come to the table with a reasonable offer and with good intentions of actually reaching a deal. Because if they do, this ends immediately and we go right back.”
Maui Health in a news release later Wednesday said it doesn’t know how long the strike will last.
Also, Maui Health echoed statements to reassure patients that services will not be disrupted during the strike.
“Patients in need of emergency medical care should not be deterred by strike activities,” the news release said. “All appointments and outpatient procedures will continue as scheduled. If patients are concerned with their scheduled appointments, they should contact their physician providers.”
Safety measures have been put in place to ensure all entrances to hospitals and facilities remain open and accessible for employees and providers, patients and their visitors, the release added.
Maui Health said it has a contingency plan in place to reduce any potential disruption to patient care and overall operations, which includes additional staffing including a labor pool, to assist in affected areas. Maui Health’s Emergency Operations Center team meets multiple times a day to assess staffing needs, and deploy additional resources where needed, the release said.
The strike comes in the wake of a demonstration held by the union in December, which rallied for better pay.
This strike by Maui Health respiratory therapists, transporters, housekeeping, laundry, nurse aides, ER techs, landscaping, bus drivers, cooks and others represented by United Public Workers AFSCME, Local 646, AFL-CIO, is separate from a 172-day strike by Kaiser mental health therapists throughout Hawai’i.
Hawai’i Kaiser mental health clinicians recently ended their strike with a vote to ratify a new three-year contract.