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Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital has given layoff notices to 45 medical technicians, including more than two dozen union- represented nursing assistants who provide direct bedside care such as bathing and feeding patients and helping them to the bathroom.

Officials said the hospital is looking for ways to avoid the layoffs, including changing from eight-hour to 12-hour shifts for nursing assistants to match schedules for registered nurses. The layoff notices issued last week were done in accordance with legal and labor contract requirements, Memorial spokeswoman Vanessa DeGier said.

“We hope to work with them on creative solutions so we do not have to eliminate any positions,” DeGier said.

Union officials, however, said the hospital is using the threat of layoffs to strong-arm employee concessions.

The layoff notices included specific dates when employees would be receiving their final paychecks and health care coverage.

Jesarela Alas-Reyes, a part-time nursing assistant at Memorial, said she received a call from her manager on May 26, informing her she would be laid off. Alas-Reyes had just started a six-week leave of absence to bond with her baby born last October.

“They said I would no longer have a job with Santa Rosa Memorial as of July 2,” Alas-Reyes said.

Alas-Reyes, who works at the hospital on weekends and takes nursing classes at Unitek College in Concord, said the change in shifts would upend her schedule and make it difficult to continue her studies.

Union and hospital officials met Friday morning to discuss the proposed shift change. NUHW secretary-treasurer Dan Martin blasted St. Joseph Health Sonoma County, which runs Memorial Hospital, for essentially threatening layoffs before discussing alternatives like the shift change. Martin said the hospital wasn’t legally bound to notify the union or employees until a decision was made that layoffs are going to occur.

“It was incredibly cruel,” Martin said, adding that the 35 people who have received layoff notices had their livelihoods “flash before their eyes.”

Martin said the switch to 12-hour shifts was likely a way for the hospital to save labor costs by reducing the total number of hours nursing assistants work, from a 40-hour to a 36-hour work week. He said about 90 of the hospital’s 150 nursing assistants work full time.

“The result will be a 10 percent reduction in patient care,” he said. “Those hours are going to go away. They’re not saying they want to hire more people to make up for the lost hours.”

DeGier insisted the layoffs are not a done deal and said the hospital wants to negotiate a “realignment” in positions that would help reduce the need for layoffs. She said the hospital hopes to offer those affected by the restructuring jobs similar positions.

“Our hope is to work with the unions on creative solutions,” DeGier said.

One nursing assistant who received a notice said that while he would welcome going to 12-hour shifts, other nursing assistants may not be willing to make such a change. The nursing assistant, who asked that his name not be used, said he feared Memorial would go forward with layoffs even if the union agreed to 12-hour shifts.

“I don’t think the hospital is going to keep everybody,” he said.

Union representatives asked the hospital to present its proposal in writing, which hospital officials said they would do by next Wednesday.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

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