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Kaiser’s engineers continue weeklong strike over pay

Stationary and biomedical engineers at the Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center — the people who keep hospital facilities and medical equipment functioning properly — entered their seventh day on the picket line due to stalled contract negotiations.

The local workers are among about 700 other members of Stationary Engineers Local 39 who have been on strike across Northern California at 24 Kaiser locations. The union’s contract expired last week.

Workers picketing in Santa Rosa and union representatives said Kaiser was not negotiating in good faith and that management had waited until the last minute to reveal a wage and benefits proposal.

“We’ve been negotiating since the beginning of July and our contract expired last Friday at midnight, and we’ve been trying to get Kaiser to discuss economics,” said Shane Mortensen, chief negotiator for Local 39, which is part of the International Union of Operating Engineers.

Mortensen said Kaiser’s proposal didn’t come last week until Friday afternoon. He said it included a compensation package that was not competitive with what other similar engineers in the Bay Area and locally are getting paid.

Kaiser officials said the company’s proposal for Local 39 offers wage increases and bonuses that would give the engineers an average of $3,600 more each year.

"This would keep our operating engineers among the best compensated in their profession and continue to ensure that we attract and retain the most highly skilled professionals,“ Debora Catsavas, senior vice president of human resources for Kaiser Permanente Northern California, said in a statement.

Catsavas said Local 39 workers are demanding pay increases that would make it more difficult to keep health care affordable for Kaiser members. Kaiser will continue bargaining with the union and has already reached agreement on some provisions for a new contract, she said.

The union represents about 20 stationary engineers and another four biomedical engineers. Stationary engineers are in charge of servicing and maintaining the hospital’s heating, air-conditioning and ventilation equipment, boilers, electrical and emergency generators. Biomedical engineers are responsible for the hospital’s medical equipment.

Jason Coester, 45, assistant chief engineer at the Santa Rosa hospital, said the union’s differences are with Kaiser’s corporate executives not the local management.

“We feel 100% supported by our local administrators and other employees locally,” Coester said. “These conversations and arguments are happening in Oakland at a higher level.”

Coester said the engineers are also objecting to a Kaiser proposal for them to travel outside the county to do work at company medical buildings in places like San Rafael. Coester and other workers said the plan is nothing more than a cost-cutting measure, while Local 39 already is short three engineers.

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

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