LifeLong Medical Care workers strike for fair workload, compensation equity

Zack Haber
4 min readJun 28, 2023
Workers rally outside of LifeLong West Berkeley Health Center on July 27 during a one day strike. Photo courtesy of Union of American Physicians & Dentists (UAPD).

Over 130 physicians, nurses, dentists, therapists and other staffers at LifeLong Medical Care, a nonprofit provider of medical, dental, and social services for low income people, went on a one day strike on Tuesday. The strike called attention to demands for fair workload, equitable wages, increased participation in decision making, and improved benefits.

Workers at LifeLong, which has more than 20 facilities throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties, voted to unionize as an affiliate of Union of American Physicians & Dentists (UAPD) in June of 2021. LifeLong and the unionized workers began contract negotiations in February of 2022, but have yet to agree to a first contract.

According to Mike Sweeney, a nurse practitioner with LifeLong and a member of the union’s bargaining team, the two sides have agreed on a few bargaining issues, but have not reached an agreement “on any of our most important issues.” The union gave all its proposals to LifeLong over four months ago, but LifeLong did not offer a comprehensive package that addressed any economic proposals until a few working days before the strike was scheduled to start. The union’s bargaining team found the package inadequate.

Starting on June 21, the two sides began federal mediation, a process through which mediators provide a third-party perspective to aid negotiations.

Representatives for LifeLong did not respond to multiple requests to comment on this article. The nonprofit’s CEO, David B. Vliet, released a statement on LifeLong’s website on Tuesday addressing the negotiations and the strike.

“Despite our best efforts to negotiate in good faith, UAPD has chosen to strike on June 27,” reads the statement. “The strike will impact the care of approximately 1,000 patients and will negatively impact LifeLong during an already challenging fiscal time. LifeLong remains committed to negotiating in good faith and hopes that we can soon come to an agreement.”

During the strike, staff members picketed at clinics throughout the East Bay in the morning, then congregated and rallied outside of LifeLong West Berkeley Health Center. Some LifeLong patients joined the workers at the site. In the afternoon, they left the West Berkeley clinic to march about a half mile and rally outside of LifeLong’s administrative offices.

LifeLong Medical Care workers march to LifeLong’s administrative offices on July 27. Photo courtesy of Union of American Physicians & Dentists (UAPD).

At the rally, staffers spoke about being overworked.

“We should be providing quality care, not quantity care,” said Azucena Barocio, a physician’s assistant. “But LifeLong wants us to see a bunch of patients and give them shitty care.”

Barocio said LifeLong doesn’t schedule her enough face to face time with her patients, and she ends up meeting with them longer than the time allotted to adequately address their needs, which causes her to be late seeing clients later in the day. She also feels she’s not allotted enough time to do paper and administrative tasks like clinical recording, so she ends up working extra unpaid hours to keep up.

Sweeney also said he works extra hours to keep up, and often does unpaid work during evenings and weekends. He notices his co-workers do extra work as well.

“This is part of why we feel exploited,” said Sweeney. “Most of us are salaried so LifeLong knows it costs them nothing to allow us to work tons of extra time.”

Barocio is bilingual, and uses Spanish everyday with her clients, but is not given more pay for this skill. The union has proposed that workers like Barocio, who use multiple languages on the job, receive compensation for that skill.

UAPD’s Chief Negotiator, Tim Jenkins, said pay inequality is a key issue staffers are trying to address. In general, workers at LifeLong make less than at other similar organizations in the Bay Area, like Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health. Internally, Jenkins said, pay disparity is also an issue, as newer hires sometimes make more than workers who have worked at LifeLong for a long time.

“You have internal inequality here,” said Jenkins. “That’s typical for a nonunion employer. Usually their salaries are all over the place because a union hasn’t come in and fixed it.”

Staffers attribute working conditions and pay inequalities to high worker turnover, which they feel harms LifeLong’s ability to give quality care. According to UAPD’s tracking, over 90 care providers have left LifeLong since 2019. Last year, LifeLong lost 29 such workers, or about 20% of the UAPD workforce.

Workers outside LifeLong West Berkeley Health Center on July 27. Photo courtesy of Union of American Physicians & Dentists (UAPD).

In a speech at the rally, Sweeney spoke about how the working conditions cause him, his co-workers, and his patients, harm. He mentioned that overwork makes it impossible to provide adequate care.

“We’re constantly being asked to work extremely hard,” Sweeney said. “But we still have our patients feeling they’re not getting their needs met. We just can’t sustain that.”

Sweeney also said that another strike might be necessary, as LifeLong’s current package “barely scratches the surface of what we need.”

“The way I see it, if we don’t put another strike threat on the books, we’re not going to get much else just because we did this one day thing,” Sweeney said.

Note: A similar version of this story is scheduled to be published by The Post News Group soon.