By Enya Lu
Stanford Health Care is making its workers choose between taking paid vacation time or accepting a 20% pay cut as a result of financial pressures caused by COVID-19, spurring criticism and push-back from workers on the front line of the pandemic. The pay reduction is planned for the next 10 weeks and will affect employees at Stanford Hospital, Lucile Packard’s Children Hospital and Stanford Health Care-ValleyCare — including those currently working to treat coronavirus.
“Stanford Health Care is navigating the unprecedented economic impact of COVID-19 and, as part of this effort, is implementing a temporary reduction in hours across the organization,” wrote Stanford Health Care spokesperson Lisa Kim in a statement to The Daily. “This is a difficult but necessary decision to sustain the long-term health of the organization so we can continue to provide critical services to the community.”
Stanford Health’s new temporary workforce adjustment program allows employees to either take paid vacation time or accept a 20% pay cut from April 27 to July 4. Employees can also take a furlough if they have run out of or cannot use paid time off.
So far, 99% of Stanford Health Care employees have opted to use their PTO, according to Stanford Health Care. In response to concerns over understaffing, Stanford Health stated that hospital functions will not be impacted.
“We continue to provide the safest, highest quality care for our patients and remain dedicated to pioneering research and effective clinical therapies to address this evolving situation,” Kim wrote. “We are immensely proud of our community at Stanford Health Care, and we thank our employees for their tireless efforts and ongoing support during these challenging times.”
In anticipation of a surge in COVID-19 cases, many U.S. hospitals had suspended all non-emergency procedures, including lucrative surgeries. Fears over contracting coronavirus at hospitals have caused visits to decrease significantly.
“Current reduced volumes make it possible to implement this [temporary workforce adjustment] at present,” wrote Stanford Health Care’s national spokesperson Julie Greicius.
However, workers have called Stanford Health Care’s decision completely unexpected and unreasonable.
“It came out of the blue,” said SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West spokesperson Steve Trossman. “We had been meeting regularly with management of Stanford Health to ensure the safety of our workers during the pandemic and things were going fairly well. Then they just sent an email, not even a letter. It came out of the blue and shocked everybody.”
SEIU says that Stanford Health Care has since refused to bargain. More than 350 workers have signed an open letter demanding that executives reconsider the pay cuts and furloughs.
“You’ve presented your furlough plan as a ‘shared sacrifice’ as if this extreme measure has the same impact on the CEO who makes over $3 million/year and a housekeeper or a nursing assistant who struggle to pay rent and feed our family in the Silicon Valley on $60,000 or $70,000 a year,” workers wrote.
“A loss of 12 days of pay would cost [Housekeeping Assistants] $2,613 and could mean the difference between paying the rent or putting food on the table for their family,” Trossman added. “What if the concept of ‘shared sacrifice’ was looked at based on the real impact it had on quality of life?”
The Daily has reached out to Stanford Health Care for comment on workers’ criticisms.
SEIU hopes that Stanford Health Care will listen to worker concerns and enter bargaining. Workers are calling for a tiered pay cut system, guaranteed health benefits, acceptance of voluntary furlough days, stopped use of registry employees in furloughed departments and transparency from the hospital in regards to its budget strains and how much stimulus funds it has received.
“Our workers are risking their lives treating COVID-19,” Trossman said. “To the public they are heroes, but to Stanford Health they are just another line on the balance sheet.”
On Wednesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans to resume elective surgeries and preventative care services, which may help rescue budgets. But on Monday, six Bay Area counties — including Santa Clara County — announced that shelter-in-place orders would be extended until the end of May.
“We anticipate that when the current shelter-in-place order is lifted, our patient volumes will return,” Greicius wrote. “We are actively preparing to resume regular operations and because of our current recovery and restoration planning and our dedicated and talented community, we are confident that we will hit the ground running.”
A previous version of the first paragraph of this article stated that Stanford Health Care instituted up to 20% pay cuts for all employees. The first paragraph has been clarified to reflect that employees have the option to take a pay cut or use paid vacation time.
Contact Enya Lu at enyalu ‘at’ stanford.edu.