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Dozens of workers at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa took to the street in front of the facility yesterday to protest a wage freeze coupled with a hike in their own health care costs, a deal they say is unfair compared with treatment the vast majority of employees at Sharp are receiving.

The workers at issue number about 250, and are subcontractors employed by the French firm Sodexo, though many were formerly Sharp employees before the health care provider decided to outsource a portion of its staff about 10 years ago. The employees are responsible for all of the hospital’s housekeeping and patient food services.

“The starting wage rate is $9.09, and the average is roughly $9.50 an hour,” says Bill Rouse, who is representing the workers in contract negotiations. “The sad thing is that we’re really only asking for what everyone else at Sharp got, which is [a] three percent [pay increase].”

Rouse said that until Sharp and Sodexo learned about the planned picket, they were holding firm with a planned increase in employee health insurance costs of up to 11 percent with no wage increase, but that he was recently contacted with an indication Sodexo might consider a two percent wage hike. This, however, would still amount to a net pay cut and Rouse says the three percent other hospital workers received is necessary to offset the insurance cost bump and keep workers’ take-home pay flat.

The workers' contract expires at the end of the month, but one more bargaining session is scheduled to take place before then.

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