News

Strike is canceled, but the strife continues

by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Sequim Gazette

The 350-plus members of SEIU 1199NW have agreed to call off their planned strike, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to pause in their ongoing protest.

 

Two dozen workers were busy Sunday, Aug. 7, creating the picket signs and posters for their planned Aug. 11 “informational picket.” The picket will take the place of the planned 18-hour walkout, which this week was declared illegal by a Kitsap judge.

 

Virginia Majewski, a nurse at the hospital, said a number of tough issues remain to be solved, including disagreements with management over wage increases, insurance premiums, rules regarding subcontractors and minimum staffing guidelines.

 

Majewski also is upset over what she sees as OMC management’s manipulation of the facts of the case.

For example, she said, a letter recently written by OMC to those in the hospital district (and printed as a full-page ad in last week’s Sequim Gazette), said, “For an average full-time RN, OMC pays over $100,000 annually in wages and benefits.”

 

Majewski was quick to note that just 34 of the 205 members of the union’s “RN unit” are full-time, with most required to work a 0.8 position. “I work four days a week,” she said. “The only way I can make $100,000 is by working a lot of overtime and stand-by time.”

 

Majewski said the base salary of a nurse begins at $25 an hour. “At the top — after 28 years in acute care,” it rises to a little more than $45 an hour.”

 

Rhonda Curry, OMC’s assistant administrator for strategic development, disagreed with Majewski’s comments, saying the facts and figures are available to anyone who wants to look. “We’re transparent with the data,” she said.

 

“Our hourly cost for RNs is in fact over $43 an hour. And our salaries and benefits for all other workers are available, too, and they stand up favorably when compared to other wages in Clallam County.”

 

Hospital officials say there are in fact just 29 full-time, 40-hour-a-week workers, but that another 134 work 32 hours a week or more and are thus available for “full-time” benefits.” Laura Joshel, OMC’s employee relations coordinator, said, “Many nurses prefer working less than the traditional 40 hours per week that constitutes full-time employment. OMC accommodates this preference even though it may impact our staffing flexibility.”

Budget strains

Linda Bryant, also a nurse at OMC, said it’s disingenuous for OMC CEO Eric Lewis to say the wages and benefits paid by OMC to employees total 60 percent of its budget. It’s true, she said, but Lewis fails to mention the 60 percent includes Olympic Medical Physicians doctors and OMC management, including Lewis himself.

 

She said the phrasing in the letter suggested it was all spent on union members.

 

Majewski provided another perspective, saying, “You should be dang glad to say 60 percent is spent on the people providing direct care. That’s what people want.”

 

Cliff Brown, RN, also commented on management tactics in the latest issue of the SEIU newsletter, saying, “It has been very disheartening to see OMC repeatedly using slanted statistics to make their case. They are focusing on RN wages and saying nothing at all about our service and dietary workers.”

 

Dan Mintey, a maintenance worker at the hospital, said after 18 years at OMC he now makes between $39,000 and $40,000 a year. This year he pays $234 a month for his family’s health insurance. If the new contract is approved with the changes sought by management, that figure will rise to $346 a month.

 

“I’m going to keep my kids insured,” he said. “But I’ll have to decide what bills I can pay. I’ll have to start juggling.”

 

The changes would hit the hospital’s part-time workers particularly hard, with those who work less than 0.8 of full-time (fewer than 32 hours a week) seeing their portion of insurance coverage cost rise from $234 to $459 month.

 

Most of the less than 0.8 workers are in the hospital’s dietary and maintenance departments, they say.
Hospital officials say that of the 106 workers in those two departments, 10 workers are now at less than 0.8.

The same all over

Majewski said she knows other workers in other industries also are dealing with cuts in insurance and rising costs for coverage. She said she further knows many in other positions would like to have the coverage she receives from OMC.

 

“I believe health care is a right, not a privilege,” she said. “But that’s where we are.”

 

Bryant said she also understands others see the OMC benefits as generous. “I totally get it. But every single day I deal with feces, urine, contaminated blood, AIDS ... I willingly do it every single day of my life.

And I deal with (patients) with the utmost respect.”

 

Bryant said she also believes those in other departments should continue receiving the current benefits package, pointing in particular to dietary workers. “Even if you don’t care about justice, you should care about having them prepare your food,” she said.

 

Bryant also said OMC’s managers have their priorities skewed. Majewski agreed, citing the board’s recent $10 million emergency room expansion.

 

Curry countered their criticisms, saying “our nation’s financial health and our local unemployment rate have dominated headlines and it’s clear to us this recession isn’t over. And yet, regardless of the financial situation, OMC is still offering full health care benefits for our full and part-time employees, plus raises every year for the next three years.”

 

Both sides agree they want to see the contract settled soon.

 

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