On May 8, members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 49 overwhelmingly voted to approve a strike if their needs are not met.
“Workers don’t want to go on strike, but they will if necessary,” says Rae Dunnaville, union spokesperson.
SEIU 49 includes healthcare employees in a wide variety of departments, as well as Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) for Good Samaritan in Albany and Corvallis.
The employees are prepared to strike over three main issues: better wages, better healthcare, and safe staffing.
“The biggest issue is the cost of health care. Members are being sent to collections because of the cost of their medical premiums. Employees are seeing between 18 and 22 percent of their paycheck going towards their premiums,” says Michelle Hilpert, unit secretary for medical surgery and chief steward for the bargaining team.
According to Hilpert, employees of Good Samaritan have been taking the option of single employee healthcare and putting their children on Oregon Health Plan to deal with the rising cost of health care and stagnant wages.
“It’s not all about the money, it’s about being able to take care of your family,” Hilpert explained.
Hilpert says the employees would be open to lower cost healthcare or higher wages to be able to afford their premiums.
Safe staffing is an issue as well because it’s hard to find coverage to make sure the patients are well taken care of, according to Hilpert.
“Nurses are assigned too many patients. They can have up to five per nurse, and an aide will work with two nurses so the aide could be trying to help eight to ten patients,” says Hilpert.
Another safe staffing issue is the fact that all patients are rated the same. One patient may be harder to care for than another if, for example, it takes multiple people to help get them up and move them around. That patient is seen no differently by the hospital than a patient that only needs one person to help them move. This creates an environment where the nurses and aides are stretched too thin by trying to help too many patients.
According to Hilpert, the offer from management right now is a cost of living raise of 1 percent the first year, 1.5 percent the second year, and 1.5 percent the third year. The offer also allows Samaritan to raise the medical premiums by up to 10 percent per year.
“That’s a four percent raise over three years, with the possibility of our premiums going up by 30 percent. It could be a net loss of 26 percent for employees. It won’t work,” says Hilpert.
Valerie Fullerton, marketing and public relations coordinator, issued a written statement from CEO David Triebes.
“We have outstanding employees and we respect their rights to negotiate. We haven’t yet been notified of a strike and we are still at the bargaining table. We look forward to a fair and equitable result,” reads the statement from Triebes.
In Albany, there will be a bargaining session between the union and management from 9 AM to 1 PM on May 15th, and a full day bargaining session on May 21st.
Both sides are hopeful a resolution can be made before a strike is necessary.
If a strike does happen, the union is legally required to give the hospital ten days’ notice so that patients can still be taken care of, according to Dunnaville.
“The employees here love it and we don’t want to strike and I don’t believe we’ve even had a strike vote in our history, but they need to increase wages to deal with the cost of health care,” says Hilpert.
SEIU 49 includes employees in the administration, environmental services, dietary, EKG technician, operation room technician, central processing, storeroom, lab, and mental health departments as well as CNAs for Good Samaritan in Albany and Corvallis.
By Jonah Anderson