DIALYSIS CAREGIVERS FROM two companies, Satellite Healthcare and Fresenius Kidney Care, spoke out against staffing shortages and working conditions during statewide protests on Wednesday.

Workers said there is severe understaffing that can lead to staff-to-patient ratios as high as one to 12. Additionally, many dialysis workers make as little as $20 an hour and often have multiple jobs to make ends meet, according to the union, SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West.

“We have to rush, to work as fast as we can, and the quality of service really suffers,” Jose Manuel Gonzalez, a dialysis technician at Fresenius Kidney Care for over 25 years, said. “I’m considering patient care, regardless of how the company treats us. The company should care more.”

Protestors called for adequate staffing to ensure patient safety, fair wages to keep up with the cost of living and reinvestment of profits to patients and workers, according to union spokesperson Renee Saldana.

Workers at 21 Satellite and Fresenius branches unionized this year and want their employers to meet them at the bargaining table, according to Easen PeBenito, a dialysis worker at Satellite Healthcare for over 12 years.

‘A huge slap in our faces’

PeBenito works for a branch that has been unionized since January and says that Satellite “[hasn’t] met us at all, not one time.” He said workers stay by the side of patients, many of whom receive long-term treatment for more than a year, no matter how bad the working conditions are.

“I think our company knows this and they just take advantage of the fact that they’re making profit off of us and that we’re going to stay and put up with it,” PeBenito said. “So for them to not hear us out is a huge slap in our faces, it’s appalling.”

He described the company as “clean kidneys, but dirty business.”

Satellite Healthcare’s Blossom Valley branch in San Jose was one protest site on Wednesday. Almost 100 people were in attendance, including dialysis workers, patients and local politicians, according to the union.

“They feel left behind. They feel forgotten. And they just feel angry, and just really fired up and fed up right now over how they’ve been treated by their employers.”

Renee Saldana, union spokesperson

These dialysis workers join tens of thousands of other health care workers across the state who have held protests and pickets in this “hot labor summer,” the union’s Saldana said.

Safe staffing and fair wages are issues happening amongst the health care industry, not just dialysis, Saldana said. Health care workers are still recovering from the worst of the pandemic and “there’s been no relief for them because it’s just short staffing, not enough facilities, an influx of patients.”

“They feel left behind. They feel forgotten. And they just feel angry, and just really fired up and fed up right now over how they’ve been treated by their employers,” she said.

Satellite Healthcare released a statement acknowledging the protest. “Some of our employees are represented by SEIU-UHW and are engaging in informational picketing today,” it said. “We respect their right to engage in lawful union activities. Our patients are all receiving the same high-quality care they have come to expect from our dedicated employees.”

Deidre Foley is an intern at Bay City News and an MA candidate at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, where she specializes in data journalism and health & science reporting. Previously she was managing editor for the San Francisco Foghorn and has bylines in the NYCity News Service, Byklner and the Nagazasshi. Deidre is interested in using data and visuals to tell social justice and human interest stories.