Manny Gonzalez knows what it’s like to be dog-tired.
As a dialysis technician at Fresenius Kidney Care Juniper Fontana, his workdays are long, often overlapping into the next shift before he has time to go home and get some much needed rest.
“I came in at 3 a.m. Monday and worked until 7 p.m.,” the 56-year-old Fontana resident said. “I had to come back at 12:45 that same night, and I worked another 13 hours.”
That chaotic kind of schedule speaks to the severe understaffing that has plagued the Fontana facility at 10557 Juniper Ave. and 19 others owned by Fresnius Medical Care and Satellite Healthcare.
The situation prompted workers to stage protests this week at several of the companies’ California dialysis centers.
“We used to have a one-to-three caregiver/patient ratio, but over the years it’s become one-to-eight, and if someone calls out sick it becomes one-to-12,” Gonzalez said. “It happens a lot.”
The latest protest was held Thursday, Aug. 10 at the Fresenius Kidney Care University Dialysis Center of Orange, as workers displayed a banner reading, “Fresenius patients need more staff.”
Another rally was held Wednesday at the Fontana location, with additional protests this week at dialysis centers in San Diego, San Jose, Folsom and Vallejo, among other locations.
The centers’ 650 dialysis caregivers — including registered nurses, patient care technicians, certified clinical hemodialysis technicians, dietitians, social workers and more — recently unionized with SEIU-UHW and are looking to negotiate their first labor contract.
But they’re off to a bumpy start.
“Our first session was scheduled for late May,” Gonzalez said. “This was agreed upon by both sides. But management failed to show up, and some of the employees had taken off work to be there.”
Representatives with Fresenius Medical Care and Satellite Healthcare could not be reached for comment.
U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia, D-Long Beach, offered his support to the caregivers in a July 21 letter sent to executives with Fresenius Medical Care and Satellite Healthcare.
“Across the industry, I understand that dialysis clinic workers continue to struggle with low wages, inadequate training and chronically low staffing levels,” he said. “These working conditions often lead to high turnover as workers leave the industry because of burnout or transfer to another healthcare sector where pay is higher.”
Garcia is urging companies across the industry to stand with their employees and avoid coercive behavior towards workers engaging in protected union activities.
“It is my belief that this is best provided by skilled workers who enjoy good wages, benefits, and the protections afforded by a union of their choice,” he said.
Gonzalez said patient care suffers when caregivers are overworked. But his commitment to the job hasn’t dimmed.
“What keeps us going is our patients,” he said. “We can’t let them down. They depend on us.”
Protests, walkouts and strikes have erupted throughout Southern California’s healthcare community in recent months as employees call for increased staffing.
Complaints of understaffing have cropped up at Prime Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood, Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital, Kaiser facilities throughout Southern California, West Anaheim Medical Center, and several LA County nursing homes, among other medical centers.