Four hundred hospital workers at McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center voted to approve a new union contract late on Friday, September 6. The contract ratification came days before a planned three-day unfair labor practice strike that would have taken place September 10-12 if workers had not reached an agreement with hospital management.
The new two-year contract raises standards significantly for caregivers who have been working to provide care without adequate staffing in their departments—and many of whom have been struggling to make ends meet with chronically low wages.
Under the new contract, caregivers won the largest yearly wage increases in over a decade, and market adjustments for jobs that were paid considerably less than hospital workers at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center located just minutes away. Nursing assistants, service coordinators, dietary workers and housekeepers will earn market rate adjustments of up to 4% more. Over the life of the contract, workers’ wages will increase up to 17%, with the majority of McKenzie-Willamette workers seeing a more than 12% wage increase.
“I have worked at McKenzie-Willamette hospital for over 15 years, and as a single mother it has sometimes been a struggle to afford rent and bills and things that my family needs,” said Alejandra Garcia, a certified nursing assistant in the emergency department. “Our raises mean that I will be making thousands of dollars more each year. That will make a big difference for my family because my daughter is starting college, and I will be able to help more with the costs.”
Union members were also able to negotiate credit for related hospital and military experience, which will help recruit and retain talented healthcare workers.
“Better valuing past experience will help us attract experienced staff,” said Aaron Green, a certified nursing assistant in the hospital’s recovery room. “In the past, a lot of experienced nursing assistants didn’t want to come to work here because the pay was too low or past work wasn’t valued. Our new union contract raises nursing assistant wages and puts a system in place to value experience, which is good for us and for our patients.”
Staffing and workload challenges have been an ongoing concern for healthcare workers, and caregivers negotiated a stronger voice in staffing in the hospital by winning additional membership in labor-management and staffing committees. Workers were also able to push back against proposals that would have reduced rest time between shifts, and significantly raised the cost of healthcare costs and premiums.
“Union members stood together to win a contract that greatly improves patient care and ensures caregivers have the ability to provide for themselves and their families,” said SEIU Local 49 President Meg Niemi. “McKenzie-Willamette workers care deeply about their patients and their hospital, and work hard every day to keep their facility clean and safe. With this contract, caregivers were able to raise standards for themselves and the whole healthcare community in Lane County.”