Union accuses Alameda Health System of firing whistleblowing nurse

This image of Highland Hospital nurse Saber Alaoui using a garbage bag as protection from covid-19 has set off a public and political firestorm.

SEIU Local 1021 said a clinical nurse who publicized the lack of protective medical equipment at Oakland’s Highland Hospital in a tweet two weeks ago, was fired by Alameda Health System as retribution for his actions.

Saber Alaoui tweeted an image of himself wearing a garbage bag to protect himself from the covid-19 virus on Mar. 28. The union said Highland Hospital officials told Alaoui and other hospital workers that protective equipment was not available to them at the time.

“He stood up for safety, and AHS fired him for it,” said John Pearson, the president of the SEIU Local 1021 chapter representing Alameda Health System employees. “We believe this is transparently an act of retaliation and an attempt to intimidate us as union members. We will fight this firing, and we want AHS to know that we are in no way intimidated.”

Alameda Health System said the union’s charge is unsubstantiated. “Claims made by John Pearson, of SEIU 1021, that a nurse was terminated based on his concerns regarding availability of personal protective equipment are false and reflect an ongoing agenda to conflate labor negotiations with a public health crisis,” the health care provider wrote in a statement.

“By practice, AHS does not discuss individual personnel actions. We make these decisions based on our overriding priority of delivering patient care and fulfilling our mission of serving all.”

Alaoui’s tweet set of a firestorm of criticism toward the hospital system, which, in addition, to Highland Hospital, also operates Alameda Hospital and San Leandro Hospital.

In addition to the public outcry against the lack of protective equipment for health care workers during the covid-19 outbreak, the image of a nurse using a garbage bag as makeshift protection, is leading the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to investigate the hospital’s operations.

Last week, county supervisors announced they would begin an investigation over the next month. Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan said a change in how the county governs the hospital provider will likely occur later this year, or, sometime after the state’s shelter in place orders begin to be lifted.

But the venomous discourse between the union and Alameda Health System management is palpable. In its statement on Wednesday, hospital officials accused the union of calling for the lynching of its chief executive officer, Delvecchio Finley, who is black. The union said the comment, which was made by a user on Twitter, is not affiliated with it, nor does it condone the sentiment.

A member of the Alameda Health System Board of Trustee, Joe DeVries, said last week that the tweet involving the garbage bag was “political theater,” and accused the union of exploiting a “one-off” event.

The union, meanwhile, has fired back repeatedly at hospital management. Last month, SEIU Local 1021 asked the Board of Supervisors to take over Alameda Health System.

Nato Green, a representative for SEIU Local 1021 last week, told the Board of Supervisors that Alameda Health System and Finely, its CEO, is “uniquely a rogue employer in their anti-union orientation.” He later accused Finley of “direct dealing” with union members. Later, at the same meeting last week, multiple nurses at Highland Hospital told the Board of Supervisors that emergency room workers in the emergency room last Monday did not have face shields during their shifts.