LA MESA, Calif. — Healthcare workers gathered for a Labor Day rally at Harry Griffen Park in La Mesa Monday afternoon to demand better working conditions while highlighting the challenges they face.

“It’s the staffing, the wages and the safe environment and supplies,” said Joni Vargas, a phlebotomist at Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “So when you think of all the things that encompass and require a healthcare provider or worker to do well, it’s all of that.”

Hundreds of attendees at the rally were joined by union leaders and local politicians.

Among the speakers was San Diego County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, who touched on how the pandemic impacted workers. Many were driven out of the healthcare field, she explained, leaving those who are left to do the job of two or three people.

“Patients are left paying more for care and getting worse results — less hands-on attention, longer delays, reduced access and worse healthcare outcomes,” said Lawson-Remer.

Similar Labor Day demonstrations were held in Los Angeles and Oakland by employees of Kaiser Permanente. At the Los Angeles protest, roughly two dozen people were peacefully arrested after blocking a section of Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

These demonstrations come as the coalition of local unions with Kaiser, which represents over 85,000 employees nationwide, are in the midst of negotiations for their first contract renewal since 2019. With the expiration date for their current contract fast approaching, workers have already begun voting to authorize a strike in the event that an agreement cannot be reached.

“We’re healthcare workers, we want to care for these folks,” said Michael Ramey, an ultrasound technician with Kaiser. “Our hands are tied to give them the type of care that they deserve.”

Ramey, a local union president who is part of the collective bargaining team, says the next negotiation session is scheduled for Wednesday.

“We’re hoping that Kaiser takes this as serious as it is and we’re hoping that they come to the table and that they work with us in good faith,” said Ramey.

Ahead of the rallies, Kaiser shared a statement with FOX 5, saying: “We remain committed to bargaining with our Coalition unions in good faith and in the spirit of partnership, working together to address the many complex issues at both local and national bargaining tables. We are confident that we will reach an agreement that achieves this goal before the national agreement expires on September 30.”