SPRINGFIELD, OR—Hospital workers at McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center who are members of SEIU Local 49 voted overwhelmingly to approve an unfair labor practice strike at the hospital during a strike vote on August 12. The 400 workers have been in contract negotiations with McKenzie-Willamette hospital management since May and are currently working under an expired contract. SEIU Local 49 says a deal cannot be reached because the hospital is bargaining in bad faith, refusing to provide information and interfering with workers’ rights.
Inadequate staffing exacerbated in part by the hospital’s low wages and unaffordable healthcare benefits are key concerns in the negotiations. Hospital workers are fighting for more staff to improve patient care in their community, and to make healthcare jobs at McKenzie-Willamette more competitive with other area hospital systems such as PeaceHealth and Samaritan Health Systems.
McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center is owned by Quorum Health Corporation, an out-of-state company that runs 27 hospitals around the country. Despite being the most profitable hospital in Oregon, too many frontline caregivers at McKenzie-Willamette struggle to make ends meet, and often report working long shifts without enough staff.
“We work hard to give the best care to our patients, but we need good staffing to provide quality care,” said Nicole Minyard, a respiratory therapist at the hospital. “Management is refusing to make the improvements we seek in staffing and is refusing to pay competitive wages.”
Shirley Roberts, a housekeeper at the hospital, echoes this concern. “In my 31 years working as a housekeeper at McKenzie-Willamette, I have never seen staffing issues so critical. We take pride in our work and in having a safe, clean and presentable hospital for our community, but we are stretched too thin because of short staffing. Quorum doesn’t pay enough to keep housekeepers; I just found out three more housekeepers are quitting. We keep the hospital clean and our patients safe from infections. We need decent pay and enough staff.”
The hospital’s recent proposal would raise healthcare premiums for workers by 21%, which would put healthcare out of reach for some of the hospital workers—many of whom already earn less than their counterparts at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center just miles away.
“Management has been incredibly out of touch throughout this bargaining process, and they have interfered with our rights to talk about our union and advocate for ourselves,” said Krystle Green, a certified nursing assistant at the hospital. “We’re sending a strong message that we’ll go on strike if that’s what it takes to fight for more staff, and to keep our healthcare affordable.”
The McKenzie-Willamette strike vote comes weeks after SEIU Local 49 members at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center hospital workers approved a new contract that significantly increases wages and improves healthcare affordability for union members. Under their new contract—settled only hours before workers planned to picket the hospital’s Riverbend campus—Sacred Heart SEIU members will earn an average of 17% more over three years.
“Hospital workers are fighting to make sure healthcare jobs in Lane County are good jobs,” said Steven Ward, a director at SEIU Local 49. “Hospitals are the backbone of the community, and they should prioritize people and community over profits. McKenzie-Willamette is a very successful and profitable hospital, and the frontline workers who provide care should not be struggling to care for their basic needs.”
The 400 hospital workers are service, maintenance, and technical employees including certified nursing assistants, housekeepers, dietary workers, surgical technicians, and more. The workers’ contract expired on July 31, 2019.
Although the workers voted to approve a strike, a date has not yet been set for a possible strike. One additional bargaining date with management is scheduled for Tuesday, August 13.
SEIU Local 49 represents more than 15,000 healthcare and building service workers, including licensed practical nurses (LPN’s), nursing assistants, professional and technical workers, pharmacists, dietary aides, and housekeepers in Oregon and Southwest Washington. We are a member of Service Employees International Union, the nation’s largest union of health care workers.