More than 800 nursing assistants, radiology technicians, dietary and housekeeping staff, certified surgical technologists and other caregivers at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland voted last month to join a statewide union.
[blockquote quote="Now we will have all come together for positive change." source="Rachel Luna, an obstetrics technician from the Birth Center at Kadlec" align="right" max_width="300px"]
The vote was 422 to 297 to align with SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, which boasts nearly 30,000 nurses and health care workers across the state.
The caregivers cited the effect of Kadlec Health System’s affiliation with Providence Health & Service’s in 2014 as driving the decision to form a union to address their concerns about staffing, wages and benefits.
Anna Henckel, 24, of Richland, a pharmacy technician, is one of the Kadlec employees who voted in favor of joining.
“For me, it means that we have a voice in the changes and the decisions that are made that affect us and the community,” she said.
Henckel told the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business that when a big company like Providence takes over, “you kind of get told what happens and what you’re going to do.”
“In a hospital setting, it’s important to have that input from your caregivers and your people in the community. They know what things could help in that specific community more than just increasing their bottom line,” Henckel said.
Bertha Montes, a lead mammography technologist for 20 plus years, said she’s “tried to treat all my patients and co-workers with kindness and respect.”
“Over the last few months I’ve given my time and part of myself to help form this union. I believe that when we come together we can have a positive influence on the community, each other and our patients,” Montes said in a statement.
The next step for the union is surveying members to determine bargaining priorities and elect a bargaining committee to negotiate a contract. The process can take a couple of months, said Julie Popper of SEIU.
Popper also said this work group has never had a union contract before.
Henckel has been involved in the process as a delegate for the pharmacy department, keeping her colleagues informed prior to the recent vote.
“One of the main issues for everybody is the removal of paid time off we had and fear of that happening even more. A lot of us were concerned about the paid time off and better wages,” Henckel said.
“Since Providence is a multi-billion dollar company, they can easily invest more into Kadlec and our community and the caregivers that care for the community and that are there to serve. If we’re better taken care of, then we can serve our community even better,” she said.
Rachel Luna, an obstetrics technician from the Birth Center at Kadlec, said she’s seen changes in recent years that don’t work for staff and patients.
“I have such a rewarding job, get to witness new life come in to this world and have the opportunity to take care of the mothers and newborns of this community,” Luna said in a statement. “The work we do at our community hospital isn’t easy and we want to be treated with respect. I stood up with my co-workers and team to form a union at Kadlec because I’m ready to move forward. … Now we will have all come together for positive change.”
In a statement, Kadlec officials said they respect the right of the caregivers to be represented by a union. “We are proud of the culture we have built with our employees and are united with them in our mission of providing safe, compassionate care to the patients we serve,” the statement said.
Kadlec’s roughly 800 nurses are represented by the Washington State Nurses Association. Two years ago, the nurses held community rallies after their contract expired, citing paid time off, sick leave and staffing levels as their biggest issues.
The caregivers join the more than 17,000 other SEIU Healthcare 1199NW members working at Providence facilities, including St. Peter in Olympia, St. Joseph in Chewelah, Home Health Care and Hospice of Snohomish County, SoundHomeCare and Hospice of Thurston, Mason, and Lewis Counties, and Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.
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