News for the East Bay's diverse, working-class majority.

Brought to you by the Democratic Socialists of America, East Bay chapter.

East Bay DSA

December 04, 2021

Kaiser Risks Patients’ Lives During Engineer Strike

By Yanira Quiñones Garcia

Stationary and Biomedical engineers in Local 39 have been on strike against Kaiser Permanente for 77 days, fighting against disgraceful working conditions. When pharmacists and nurses went on strike, outcry from the community and bad press helped Kaiser move quickly to accommodate these workers. For the engineers, however, it’s been a long and hard wait, and it is crucial for the public to understand how patient safety relies on engineers just as much as it does on nurses. Many engineers are struggling to make ends meet as they are vying for equitable treatment and competitive industry pay.

I stopped by the local 39 picket line to speak with the striking workers and learned about their working conditions and how their strike was going. I also found out about what Stationary and Biomedical engineers do on a day to day basis. Stationary Engineers and Biomedical technicians support all critical hospital operations. They repair and maintain fire safety, life safety, temperature control, operating room equipment, patient medical gas systems, and emergency generators as well as all critical patient care equipment.

Some concrete examples of these critical operations are oxygen, medical air, steam for sterilization, and water heating. They also monitor temperature and humidity, not just in rooms, but in specialized refrigeration units that store medication, as well as in servicing gurneys and beds. 

Someone who has worked there for years will be able to head to a shut-off valve in the case of an emergency at the drop of a hat, whereas a scab — a contract worker who cross the picket line — will not readily know the complex and specialized systems.  Executives seem to have no problem gambling with patient lives when they hire scabs to do specialized work. For example, the Walnut Creek location had a flood recently due to not having the full time engineers, who know the workplace inside out, on hand. 

On the Biomedical Technician side, we get into things that are directly connected to the patient rather than the building. For example, IV pumps, blood pressure cuffs, laser equipment, radiology equipment falls under their purview. These types of equipment need to be calibrated often to work precisely for patient safety as well as compliance with federal and local regulations, and makes it necessary for biomedical engineers to work on site. The biomedical technicians also maintain the COVID rooms and tents that have been set up to help COVID patients.  

Right now they have contractors from out of state servicing 21 hospitals and striking workers report that the scabs are being worked thin, possibly putting patients at risk. MRI’s, Cardiac catheters, Ultrasounds, Fetal Monitors, Radiation therapy, CT scans, heart monitors, ICU, CCU, NICU, anesthesia equipment monitoring, interventional radiology or cardiac intervention Nuclear Medicine which helps with checking for pulmonary embolisms, lasers to cauterize wounds. 

Kaiser has turned their backs on folks who have worked for them for 30 plus years in exchange for hiring contractors from places like Pennsylvania and Louisiana. Why? All they are asking for is equitable wages that are competitive within their industry and instead of giving them what they deserve they are crushing them. Kaiser is trying to set a precedent by doing this, and other so called health care providers are watching to see just how long they can hold out for and how low they can low ball their workers. They’re playing with patient health by putting their greed over our needs.

A retired Biomedical Technician I met today said “A hospital should be treated as an organic being, you have to be mindful of all its moving parts,” and certainly the stationary engineers and biomedical technicians monitor some of the most critical parts to a hospital, to keeping people alive and informed accurately about their health.
If you’re concerned about Kaiser’s behavior, there are actions you can take. A good start would be to visit Kaiser Permanente’s Instagram page, and leave a comment letting them know you disapprove of their treatment of their workers. Tell them to stop replacing experienced engineers with contract workers that do not know the equipment or buildings well, because they are risking patients’ lives. Most importantly, you can support the striking workers financially at this GoFundMe. Fundraiser for Local 39 in Oakland.