News

Judge: OMC strike is off the table

by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Sequim Gazette

The threat of a strike at Olympic Medical Center is now officially over.

 

Workers covered by contracts with the Service Employees International Union Healthcare (SEIU) first called for an 18-hour walk-off in August but were stymied by temporary retraining orders issued by a Kitsap court.

 

On Nov. 8, Kitsap County Superior Court Judge M. Karlynn Haberly put an end to the argument. Haberly, who was acting as a visiting judge on behalf of the Clallam County Superior Court, granted OMC’s motion for summary judgment, ordering a permanent injunction against a strike by SEIU and its members.

 

In her order, Haberly wrote, “It is unlawful for the Defendants and members of the Defendant Union, as employees of the Plaintiff, a public hospital, to strike against the Plaintiff ....”

 

OMC CEO Eric Lewis released a statement, saying, “We are pleased with the ruling, that a strike against OMC as a public hospital district is prohibited under Washington state law. Our goals from the beginning were to maintain health care services for our community and local jobs for our valued employees. OMC remains committed to reaching a fair contract settlement with SEIU.”

 

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW provided its own response through Ginny Majewski, a nurse at the hospital and one of the leaders in the union’s ongoing efforts to reach a settlement.

 

“Our primary concern has been, and continues to be, getting Olympic Medical Center to return to the bargaining table. We will continue to work for guaranteed staffing for every patient, every time; affordable health care for our families and retirement security.

 

“As the nurses and health care workers who care for this community, we’re proud to provide care and be there when our patients need us. We’d like to settle a contract that allows us to continue to improve care and put patients first.”

 

The two parties already are engaged in mediation through Washington’s Public Employees Relation Commission, a process they jointly requested.

Sources of friction

A one-day strike was planned by SEIU workers in August, but it was canceled when Haberly issued a temporary injunction. At that time Majewski said raises for workers are an issue but aren’t at the heart of the disagreement. “It’s benefits and safe staffing,” she said.

 

Majewski said she and her union colleagues are upset about cuts in medical care coverage. OMC has paid 100 percent of the cost of health insurance for hospital employees and would continue to do so under the plan it has proposed. The changes proposed by management would require workers to pay a larger portion of the premiums for spouses and children, with part-time workers particularly hard hit.

Majewski also cited the hospital’s failure to meet its own staffing rules.

 

“It’s not uncommon for guidelines not to be followed,” she said, adding that produces less-safe conditions for patients and more burnout among workers.

 

“They need to be held accountable,” she said.

 

Lewis said that each department has a staff committee that establishes optimal staffing numbers. “We’re committed to that,” he said. “But simply hiring a bunch of nurses isn’t an adequate way to ensure we’re ... adequately staffed.”

 

Reach Mark Couhig at mcouhig@sequimgazette.com.

 

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