The NSW Health Services Union has threatened statewide strike action if the state government refuses to reverse its decision to close Port Kembla Hospital's food production unit at the cost of 30 jobs.
Speaking at a rally outside the hospital on Wednesday morning, HSU NSW secretary Gerard Hayes said the union was not prepared to "lie down" and let the Illawarra community suffer.
"We're not walking away, this is a start, we hope they [the government] work with us," he said.
"If they don't work with us we will do whatever is needed to support the community of the Illawarra."
More than 40 people shouted slogans including "Save our kitchen" and "Shame Barry, shame" outside the hospital's boundaries during the rally.
Yesterday, the Mercury revealed the Port Kembla kitchen would be closed after HealthShare NSW announced meals would be prepared at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney instead of Port Kembla.
At present, the Port Kembla kitchen supplies meals to the Illawarra-Shoalhaven and South East Sydney Local Health Districts.
HSU Illawarra organiser Graham Conroy said the change would mean patients would receive meals prepared up to six weeks in advance.
"You're going into hospital as a patient, would you like to be eating a stew that's six weeks old or something made today?"
He said the effects of the closure were already starting to be felt throughout the Illawarra.
"One supplier indicated his contract ended in March," Mr Conroy said.
"You've got the suppliers, you've got the families that are living here, you've got the workers ... it's going to affect everybody.
"It's just another nail in the coffin for the Illawarra."
For hospital cook David Cvetkovic, the closure would mean searching for work in Sydney, and a possible lengthy commute.
"It's going to affect the budget, I'm going to have to wake up early - I've done it before and it's not easy," he said.
"The main reason I'm working here is because it's close to family and friends.
"I grew up in the Illawarra, I've been here most of my life."
HealthShare chief executive Michael Walsh said nutritional standards introduced in December 2011 were behind the decision to close the Port Kembla food unit.
"HealthShare NSW takes its food service role seriously and this decision has been made to ensure patients are provided with meals which meet new nutritional standards," he said.
"This cannot be delivered at Port Kembla and products will be sought from local and statewide contracts that are currently in place."
Mr Walsh said HealthShare aimed "to place all affected food production unit staff into local jobs".
"The changes to the Port Kembla kitchen will occur progressively throughout 2014," he said.
"HealthShare will continue to work with the local health district and other employers to ensure staff are placed in appropriate roles including providing retraining opportunities."