Wet, but committed, hundreds of members of S.E.I.U 1199NW turned out in the rain April 16 as 'informational' pickets in front of their employer, Highline Medical Center. The union is in mid-contract negotiations with Francisan Health System which now operates the Burien hospital.
Hundreds of hospital workers turn out in the rain to punctuate their contract demands
For weeks there have been signs throughout the Highline area asking that healthcare workers be treated fairly by their employers. Those signs support hundreds of people who showed up in front of Highline Medical Center April 16 when members of S.E.I.U 1199 NW began more than an hour of 'informational picketing'.
The group included nurses, secretaries, nursing assistants, dietary and housekeeping staff, lab techs, emergency department staff, family childbirth and staff from the medical and surgical floors according to Gloria Acosta, a critical care nurse and negotiator for the union and member of the executive board.
The purpose of the picketing was to draw attention to contract negotiations now underway to replace a contract that ends in June, 2015. Scott Thompson, media relations spokesperson for the Franciscan system which operates Highline Medical Center, said there are about 600 employees represented by the union on staff at the hospital. Franciscan, headquartered in Tacoma, recently took over ownership of Highline.
One matter at issue is what Acosta calls "Franciscan trying to institute policies from down south (Tacoma)"
"We used to bargain with Highline," she said, when it was a standalone entity. Now, because Franciscan operates many medical centers, Acosta feels "we are up against them and not getting anywhere."
Previously under the Highline banner, union members enjoyed free healthcare. Now, Franciscan wants them to pay.
"Some secretaries and assistants would not be able to insure their family," Acosta said. Other would get one-half of one percent.
Nurses have been offered a zero wage increase, according to Acosta. "It would be a loss if we have to pay for insurance."
Union members feel they deserve increases because when Highline struggled during the economic turndown in recent years, the members agreed to wage and benefit concessions. 'WE agreed to negligible wages," Acosta said. But in their view now, because they believe Franciscan has made large profits, they would like a share.
"We want fair wages and cost-of-living allowances. We've fallen behind industry standards at places like Swedish and Overlake, "she said. "We have a lot of loyalty to the area. Franciscan is doing some nice things and we think we are part of it."
Acosta said the cost of living is different in King County than it is in Tacoma and for that reason, their demands are different. "We've been bargaining with them since last October."
Francisan spokesperson Thompson characterized the picketing as "not unusual." Franciscan, he said, negotiates individual contracts with representatives of labor union at its various facilities.
"We value all our employees, union and non-union. They are the reason we are able to give the level of care we can. We are hopeful we can come to an agreement that works for both sides," he said.