News

OMC, union agree to contract compromise

by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Sequim Gazette

The 350-plus Olympic Medical Center workers represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have a new contract in hand.

 

The workers overwhelmingly agreed to the compromise Tuesday, April 3.

 

The contract was unanimously approved by the OMC board of commissioners that same day.

 

The compromise ended more than 18 months of tough, and often contentious, negotiations. In early February the board declared an impasse had been reached in the negotiations and approved a new contract.

 

OMC CEO Eric Lewis was pleased by the April 3 decision. “With these latest settlements, OMC has negotiated contracts for all represented employees that reduce a benefit cost structure that was no longer sustainable.”

 

Lewis said, “These are fair settlements that provide a competitive wage and benefit package for our employees. All employees in the Hospital Division now have the same benefits.”

 

SEIU workers had been seeking to avoid cuts to their benefits package, but in the end agreed.

Union happy with contract

The union workers cheered their victories in the negotiations, saying in a statement, “The agreement includes important improvements to staffing rules at the hospital.”

 

Diane Sosne, president of SEIU Healthcare 1199 Northwest, added, “It was a priority for us to settle the contract at the bargaining table and we are proud to say we accomplished that. We’re moving forward to work with the hospital in the best interest of patients.”

 

As part of the new agreement, nurses and health care workers have enforceable language in their contracts for unit-based committees to develop staffing plans that will best meet patient needs. The hospital has committed to budget for and hire staff consistent with the proposed staffing plans.

 

Linnae Riesen, communications director for the union local, said prior to the new agreement the hospital managers weren’t obliged to follow the recommendations of the staffing committee. The workers now have “a voice in staffing to ensure breaks,” Riesen said, noting the breaks are “important to providing care for patients.”

 

“We made significant inroads with the hospital when it comes to staffing,” said Ginny Majewski, a nurse at the hospital and member of the bargaining team. “This new standard means the nurses and health care workers who care for patients every day will have a direct say in what the staffing should be. We know first if the staffing isn’t meeting our patient needs,”

 

Linda Bryant, also a nurse and member of the bargaining team, said, “Our community really stood behind us to say that staffing was a priority at the hospital. We appreciate the support we received and the message that it sent: Patients should come first. It’s our honor to care for the people of this community.”

 

The two sides also had disagreed over pay increases for the workers. The new contract provides all 350-plus of the SEIU-represented workers with raises, retroactive to Dec. 25, 2011.

 

The service workers received a 3.5-percent raise while the registered nurses and licensed practical nurses received a 3-percent raise. Dietary workers won a 4-percent raise.

 

The workers will receive a lump sum to cover the back payments.

 

In the second year of the contract, which begins in February 2013, service workers will receive another 2.5-percent raise, while the RNs and LPNs are bumped up by 3 percent. Dietary workers will receive a 2-percent raise.

 

The agreement also includes what the union calls “job security measures” to protect against subcontracting of jobs within the hospital.

Compromise is key

Lewis noted that “All negotiated agreements involve some degree of compromise on both sides. That was certainly the case with the agreements OMC negotiated with the United Food and Commercial Workers (union) between February and September 2011 and is equally true as to the settlements we reached with SEIU for the Dietary, Service and Nursing Units.”

 

The new agreement is also the first SEIU Healthcare 1199NW contract for the dietary workers in the hospital.

 

“We work as a team in the hospital to provide care and we’re proud that this contract allows us to have a unified voice with the nurses and other health care workers,” said Andy Janssen, a dietary worker.

 

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