Following months of negotiations with Olympic Medical Center management, workers with SEIU Local 1199NW are taking their case to the public with an “informational picket” scheduled at the hospital today, April 6.
The union represents workers in a number of departments within the center, including dietary workers, nurses, central supply and service and maintenance workers.
A recent statement released by the local says, “... what kind of care can our community count on if OMC doesn’t recruit and retain skilled nurses and caregivers? Other hospitals are recognizing the challenge of keeping their caregivers. But Olympic Medical Center management’s health benefits and wages are lagging behind.”
Nurses, licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants, surgical techs, dietary workers, housekeeping staff and other health care workers from OMC will join the picket before and after shifts and during breaks. The picket culminates in a 5 p.m. rally.
Linnea Reisen, communications director for SEIU Local 1199NW, said OMC has proposed health care increases that would make health care unaffordable for health care workers and their children.
“For many workers, the proposed health care increases would essentially mean enduring as much as a 10-percent pay cut,” she said.
OMC management wants workers to pay 25 percent of the premium for providing health care coverage for their dependents. The coverage is included in their current compensation package.
“Olympic’s commitment to providing our community with quality health care should extend to the caregivers who work here. These proposed increases mean my kids will lose health insurance,” said Lois Bennett, an emergency room technician at OMC.
Whitney Woodard, a worker in the dietary department, was one of 10 union members who spoke during the OMC board of commissioners’ board meeting on Wednesday, March 16. She later explained their presence at the meeting, saying, “We’re not getting anywhere in negotiations with our employers so we wanted to talk to the commissioners.”
“The hospital won’t work with us,” Woodard said, “but the hospital continues to buy property and continues to expand.”
Woodard also made a pitch for establishing a training fund at the hospital. She said such funds are common practice at many hospitals, allowing workers to move up in the ranks with additional training and education.
“We want to grow jobs in our community — and particularly here at OMC. This is a way of growing our trained-up health care workforce. With the huge wave of retiring nurses and employees that is going to happening the next five years, this would ensure that we would have the workforce to meet public demand.”
Other workers called for a ban on subcontracting workers and wanted “enforced staffing minimums.”
In a written statement, Rhonda Curry, OMC’s assistant administrator, said, “Olympic Medical Center’s management believes that the issues raised in labor negotiations are best resolved through good-faith bargaining, which means meeting together in an attempt to reach mutually agreeable solutions to the challenges facing many health care employers, especially rural health care organizations such as OMC. We will not be pressured into entering into agreements that would send us into deficit spending.”
Curry added that the public should know, “OMC is proud of the wages and benefits we are able to offer.
At the same time, we are in a similar position as many other public sector employers. That is, we face significant limitations in the amount of revenue we are paid. Therefore, it is critical that OMC enter into labor contract settlements that we can afford now and over time.”
Curry said with “the largest workforce in Clallam County with over 1,000 employees … one of our main goals is to keep our current workforce employed by maintaining a pay and benefits packages that we can afford.
“We must balance the need for up-to-date medical equipment and facilities — which represents about 8 percent of our budget — with the need for a competitive wage and benefit package for our valued employees — which represents about 58 percent of our budget — and in doing so live within our means.
“We are working hard to achieve this difficult balance and will continue to offer wages and benefits that are fair and competitive in our local marketplace.”