Hospital workers hope for health care, better hours

Several union members from Harrison Hospital’s professional and technical ranks spent last Thursday leafleting in front of the hospitals in Bremerton and Silverdale and the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility.

The workers — about 800 strong working in nursing, medical assistance, imaging, registration and more — are members of United Food and Commercial Local 21. They have been in contract negotiations since June.

“These workers provide direct patient care every day,” said UFCW 21 Communications Director Tom Geiger. “Negotiations have not gone well and significant issues remain including concerns about health care and a proposal from the employer that would require 12-hour shifts.”

UFCW 21 is the state’s largest private sector union with over 43,000 members, more than 16,000 of whom work in health care.

Bremerton resident Kathleen Kish has worked at Harrison for almost eight years. She used to work in the emergency room and had healthcare, but was laid off two years ago during a reorganization. She now works as a Licensed Practical Nurse in the day surgery unit on a part-time basis without any health coverage through Harrison. Fortunately, she said her husband works in the shipyard and has family coverage.

“It’s an insult to work at the hospital and think I could be devastated by an emergency,” she said while leafleting in front of PSNS&IMF last Thursday.

Seabeck resident Aimee Oien, a pharmacy technician who has worked at Harrison for nine years, said she was out leafleting in front of the shipyard to support her fellow coworkers at the hospital. Oien said she hasn’t previously been involved much in negotiations or union matters, but felt it was worth getting involved this time around to advocate for “reasonable health care for my coworkers.”

The leaflets that the workers passed out said “Our patients matter” and went on to note, “Right now, we are in contract negotiations with our employer, and wanted to let you know that it has been difficult to reach a compromise.” The main issues the workers cited on the leaflets are safe working shifts and not being forced to work 12-hour shifts, affordable health care and “the right to participate in our union.”

At one point Thursday morning, Bremerton police received a call from Harrison Hospital security, said BPD Capt. Tom Wolfe.

“What we did is we spoke to our city attorney’s office and just asked for them to give us some guidance about the best way to address the situation,” Wolfe said. “There can be some gray areas when it comes to public areas and private businesses and you have to tread kind of lightly.”

Wolfe said that officers didn’t witness “any acts they felt were an issue at all. It was pretty low-key.” He said officers then spoke with “upper management” at Harrison.

“The understanding was that as long as they didn’t block access to or from the hospital or aggressively approach people they were welcome to stay and hand out their pamphlets,” Wolfe said.


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