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Highline nurses, staff ratify deal with safer staffing levels

The following is from SEIU Healthcare 1199NW:

BURIEN, Wash. (Feb. 10, 2020) — The 550 nurses and caregivers at Highline Medical Center represented by SEIU Healthcare 1199NW announced last week that they reached a tentative agreement with parent corporation CHI Franciscan, which will substantially improve the quality of patient care and jobs for the local community. A supermajority of workers voted on Thursday and Friday to ratify the contract by a 99% vote.

Among many improvements, the agreement includes safer staffing levels so patients receive compassionate care; affordable health benefits; none of the takeaways management originally proposed; racial justice provisions to ensure everyone is treated fairly on the job; and significant raises that will recruit and retain qualified caregivers.

“This agreement will help us improve staffing levels in service departments as well as nursing, and it will also help attract and keep good staff at Highline,” said Jenny Carter, a lead sterile processing tech who has worked at the hospital for 29 years. “In sterile processing, the job is stressful because we can have overwhelming workloads and instruments often need to be sterilized right away, which has led to staff turnover. Now we will have a process for addressing staffing issues, additional steps in our pay scale to reward years of experience, and more competitive wages, all of which will raise the standard of care at our hospital.”

Registered nurses, certified nursing assistants, lab assistants, sterile processing techs, unit secretaries, environmental services technicians, dietary aides and others had been negotiating the union contract since June. Workers had held a series of actions and reached out to the community for support, culminating in a large, successful informational picket in November. The new agreement will be in effect through June 30, 2022, and has a broad range of improvements, including:

  • Safe staffing provisions: management must adhere to the written staffing guidelines for each department, enforceable by a neutral arbitrator; charge nurses, who oversee departments, will normally not have any patient assignments; and staffing concerns in service departments can be escalated to Highline’s Chief Operating Officer.
  • Preservation of affordable health benefits; lower premiums for dental care; and protections from medical debt collections.
  • None of the original takeaways that management proposed, such as cuts to: retirement benefits; the “low census fund” which protects workers’ pay when patient admissions fall; premium pay for “per diem” workers who fill staffing gaps on a day-by-day basis; and the SEIU 1199NW Training Fund.
  • Equity and inclusion provisions to ensure fair treatment on the job: data sharing regarding workforce demographics and disciplinary actions, to address instances of bias; and joint training for the labor-management committee.
  • Significant raises: a four percent raise upon ratification of the contract, which includes a three percent raise retroactive to July 2019; up to 6.25 percent additional raises through July 1, 2021; new steps in the pay scale for service workers; raising the minimum wage at the hospital from $15.05 to $16.34; environmental services staff can become certified through the SEIU Healthcare 1199NW Training Fund and earn $1 an hour additional pay.

CHI Franciscan is very financially healthy with $1.4 billion in revenue in 2018, and can readily afford these improvements. Recently, Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) merged with Dignity Health to form CommonSpirit Health, the largest non-profit health system in the country by revenue, with over 700 facilities throughout 21 states. Highline workers say the new agreement will hold corporate executives accountable and ensure they are investing in safe, quality healthcare and good jobs for the local community.

“When I clean the labor and delivery rooms, I work as if my own daughter were giving birth here,” said Maria Zetino, a 62-year old environmental services technician who has worked at Highline for almost 24 years:

“My goal is always to protect our patients, doctors, nurses and all the other staff from infectious diseases, so I pay close attention and clean every surface from beds and bathrooms to door handles and light switches. Healthcare delivery takes a team, with everyone working together like the engine of a car. Environmental service techs are a vital part of that team, because it’s extremely important to make sure the hospital is thoroughly disinfected and sanitized, especially with the flu and Coronavirus going around our state. During my eight-hour shift, I have to clean 14 patient rooms, two operating rooms and an observation room. This is tough work physically and mentally, so there is a lot of turnover. In our new agreement, environmental services techs earn one dollar more per hour for getting certified through our union training fund. We also won a process for improving staffing levels, raised our wages and protected our retirement, all of which will keep experienced staff.”

“Last week my coworkers and I went to support the Swedish caregivers on their picket line,” she added, “because we’re all fighting for the same goal: safe patient care. I’ll keep supporting them until they win a fair contract, too.”

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW is a union of over 30,000 nurses and healthcare workers throughout hospitals, clinics, mental health facilities, and skilled home health and hospice programs in Washington State and Montana. Their mission is to advocate for quality healthcare and good jobs for all.

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