Valley Med Employees Stage ‘Sick Out,’ Threaten Strike

Days before a two-year contract expires for Santa Clara County's largest labor union, several public hospital employees staged a "sick out" to call attention to their demands for higher wages and benefits.

Service Employees International Union Local 521, which represents some 10,000 of the county's 15,000 employees, voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to authorize a strike to address issues ranging from "a critically understaffed 9-1-1 department to a looming labor shortage."

That vote allows members to petition the South Bay Labor Council to support an official protest—if it comes to that. The last strike by the county SEIU chapter was in 1975 and lasted two weeks.

Preemptive sick-outs, however, are illegal, though not unheard of as a contract comes up for re-negotiation.

On Thursday, 20 employees in the Valley Health Center East and all eight day shift technicians in the Renal Care Center claimed unauthorized sick leave, according to a county insider. Valley Medical had to scramble to help dialysis patients, calling in backup from other departments to keep the clinic up and running.

More sick-outs are expected at Valley Health Center Tully and Valley Connection, the hospital system's call center.

"Our job is to try to make sure that public services are not being impacted in any way," Deputy County Executive Luke Leung told San Jose Inside. "We would prefer to have full service, but there is no danger to patient care."

The unsanctioned protests prompted Valley Medical CEO Paul Lorenz said there would be consequences for calling in sick to make a statement.

"The county has contacted SEIU regarding this 'sick out' and SEIU staff and elected leadership informed the county that the rumored 'sick outs' are not SEIU authorized nor SEIU endorsed events," he wrote in a June 5 hospital-wide memo. "In fact, the SEIU chapter chair stated clearly that such a sick out 'would be illegal.'"

He said anyone who fraudulently uses their sick leave as a form of protest will get their pay docked or find themselves on the receiving end of some disciplinary action. Beginning June 6, the county began demanding doctor's notes for all unplanned sick time or risk getting cited for an unexcused absence.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. “cited for an unexcused absence”? That’s it? OOOOOH! They put the lives of dialysis patients in danger. They should be charged by whatever state disciplinary board oversees their professional competence and have their licenses suspended for a significant period of time.

    • And if they dont put community first and stop trying to cut our healthcare and herd us all into the same plan that most Medi-Cal patient’s default in (Valley Health Plan) while raising OOP expenses, a couple cents a year pay rise for the next 3 years, while the cost of living is increasingly rising? They dont see that without us healthcare workers THE COUNTY hospital which receives and treats ALL patients REGARDLESS of their ability to pay, our hospital system will falter. The CEO got a 6,000 dollar raise but they choose to make cuts on their frontline workers.
      We had our choice of health insurance that many of our families have Kaiser or HealthNet forever, but now County wants to shove everyone to the already IMPACTED Valley Health Plan and receive care where where everyone on Medi-Cal receives care. while still increasing co-pays if we are to elect Valley Health Plan. We book out appointments 3 months ahead because of the many undeserved that we SERVE. What are we going to do? Put our kids, our spouses, on an appointment waitlist and heavily impact our hospital system even more? Transfer care from the pediatricians that have handled our children from birth to Doctors, nurses and assistants that we work with so that our family’s health history is out for all our coworkers to know as well? They’d have to choose to hire workers that probably would of not been the first pick and and therefore would be putting more of the community at risk by inevitably having to hire inexperienced or (lets face it) people with a certificate or degree who still dont know what the hell they’re doing, because at one point, it was great to work in a government sector, but when there’s better competition to now work for, and covered california insuring more patients, what’s to stop the great and fully qualified workers in Santa Clara’s health and hospital systems from leaving to better companies, while the community gets stuck with mediocre care.

    • > The fact that you don’t know what the word “illegal” means explains a lot.

      I’m just a tiny little inconsequential pissant.

      The fact that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Jerry Brown don’t know what “illegal” means explains a lot more.

      • Yes and the trickle down ignorance if “illegal” infected City Hall and caused all sorts of havoc here on SJ… while the media and voters cheered!

        • > while the media and voters cheered!

          Overstating your case just a bit, Wheedle.

          Josh is, after all, “the media” and he has landed a few punches on the SCCOE crime family.

          Maybe if we encourage him, we’ll get to see a “perp walk”. I like the ones where the perp is paraded by the cameras and pulls his jacket over his head.

          • “illegal” as in Measure B… Josh seems only to punch if there is an axe to grind… Not sure what the motivation is for his continued moves on the county – not a bad thing just have to wonder why it is that City Hall gets scrutiny limited to (a) those thought be in league with the unions or (b) those on the way out or already gone…(is Herrera and Oliverio’s time coming? We shall see…). The Fly occasionally wonders aloud but rarely is there follow-up.

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