DaVita Kidney Care, which along with other dialysis providers and health care groups is opposing a mandatory dialysis staff-to-patient ratio in California, is denying that it fired a patient care technician because of his support of the legislation.

Emerson Padua said in an interview with NN&I that he was terminated at DaVita’s Valley View clinic in Moreno Valley, Calif. on May 24 because he has helped in trying to unionize DaVita employees in the state. He said he had worked at the clinic for almost 15 years.

Padua gave a speech at a rally (see video below) held in Sacramento on May 23 in support of SB 349, the Dialysis Patients Safety Act, which would require staff to patient ratios––1 to 8 for nurses; 1 to 3 for patient care technicians, and 1 to 75 for social workers.

Read also: Dialysis providers, union take sides in California over staffing ratios

Less than 24 hours later, he said, DaVita terminated him.

Padua claims that he has had no bad performance reviews at the clinic. “It started with my union activity and me trying to organize my colleagues back in August to improve the worker environment.

“Based on my clinical skills, I was the leader of this facility,” said Padua.

“This type of unwarranted retaliation speaks to the profits-before-patients mentality and illustrates why there is growing support nationally for reforming the dialysis industry,” said Senator Connie M. Leyva, D-Chino, a supporter of SB 349. “Infections are the second leading cause of death for dialysis patients, and rather than partnering with its workers to improve patient care, companies seem to be focused on punishing caregivers who are trying to address the issue.”

But DaVita officials say that Padua was fired for problems with job performance and deny they would take action against employees because of union activities.

Read also: California staff ratio bill includes tough penalties for noncompliant dialysis clinics

“Such decisions are not made because of any teammate’s support of the union or legislation,” said Kevin Downey, senior manager of communications for DaVita, in a written statement. “While many of our teammates stand against the legislation, teammates on both sides of the issue were welcomed back to their clinics throughout California after the event.

“We recognize and respect each teammates’ legal right to support or not support the union or the legislation. We do not discriminate or terminate based on individual choice.”

The decision to terminate Padua’s employment, Downey said, “was made before he spoke in support of the legislation. The decision was based solely on Mr. Padua’s work performance and was made only after a thorough review of all the relevant facts.”

In response to his firing, labor union SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW), which has been heavily involved in pushing the Senate bill and working to unionize dialysis workers, filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board. SEIU-UHW is one of the largest unions of hospital workers in the western United States with 90,000 members.

Padua said he had been working at DaVita and at a Fresenius Kidney Care clinic in California.

Battle continues over the  bill

The May 23 rally at the California State Capitol in support of SB 329 is the latest round in the debate over creating staff ratios for dialysis providers in the state. Proponents say the bill will improve patient care, safety, and thin staffing counts at 562 dialysis clinics throughout the state.

The bill would also mandate annual inspections of dialysis clinics and 45-minute transition time between patients. Currently, dialysis clinics are inspected on average every five to six years, while nursing homes – and restaurants – in California must be inspected every year, proponents say.

Opponents, lead by dialysis providers, physicians, dialysis staff, and some renal associations, say there is little evidence that implementing staffing ratios improves care, and quality improvement indicators for dialysis care in California show that outcomes are better than in other states, including those with staffing ratios.

Eight states have minimum staffing levels in dialysis clinics: Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.