New Olympic Medical Center board member Tom Oblak received a baptism by fire after his swearing-in, Wednesday, March 7.
Though the board’s agenda had no room for it, the board members agreed to hear comments from Bill Kildall, the organizer of the Clallam County Quality Care Coalition, a new organization “comprised of community leaders and concerned citizens who believe this hospital district must strive to maintain a healthy work environment for its employees and quality health care for its constituents.”
Kildall said his organization currently has about 25 members, or half of the 50 that he says is the organization’s goal.
The group has as one of its first priorities encouraging the board to agree to enter into binding arbitration to settle an ongoing dispute with the 350-plus hospital workers who are represented by the Service Employees International Union 1199 NW (SEIU).
Management and SEIU engaged in contract negotiations, including formal mediation, for more than 16 months before the board approved a contract in early February.
State Rep. Kevin Van De Wege has since asked the two sides to agree to binding arbitration. The union has reluctantly agreed, but the board has so far demurred. Kildall said State Rep. Steve Tharinger also supports the two sides going into arbitration.
OMC CEO Eric Lewis responded to Van De Wege’s request, saying the board has utilized the means provided by the state to fulfill its duties. He added that an outside arbitrator likely would not understand the full complexities of the financial issues now faced by the hospital district.
Kildall said, “These excuses are naive and misleading.”
“The truth of the matter is that members of the American Arbitration Association are skilled third-party hearing officers trained in conducting and adjudicating labor disputes,” he said.
Kildall, who said he worked for the Federal Way School District developing policy for the board and as the assistant superintendent, said, “I know how boards operate. I’m not naive about how they work.”
The board likely will stay the course. In a statement released Friday, March 9, hospital managers declared arbitration “is not an appropriate method for a public hospital district to determine its future financial and operational viability.
“As (previously) stated, OMC also wants to go back to the bargaining table, as it is dedicated to the collective bargaining process pursuant to Washington state law.”
The statement also declares that OMC has repeatedly asked SEIU to resume bargaining, “and SEIU has not responded.”
OMC has its own conditions, saying, “When SEIU proposes affordable contract terms, then OMC would be willing to resume bargaining.
“Simply put, SEIU wants better benefits and higher wage increases for its members than any other employee at the hospital receives, including some 375 union employees whose benefits were just negotiated this past year.”
The new coalition isn’t likely to go away quietly. Coalition member Tim Wheeler, who recently received “excellent care” at OMC for a stroke, said, “I fear for the care if they impose an agreement on the workers that is inferior. Will they go away?”
Andrea Radich, co-organizer of Clallam County MoveOn, said the board needs to “support the community by supporting the workers.”
The board also heard briefly from Jeanna Hutton, a registered nurse at the hospital, who told the board that arbitration “is not what we wanted. It’s not what you wanted.”
She said the union members have “swallowed our pride, we’ve eaten crow.”
She said that with the new contract in place, the “community sees us under your thumb. Let’s have a professional do this for you.”