Harrison talks break down

Contract negotiations between Harrison Hospital and about 800 professional and technical (Pro-Tech) employees belonging to UFCW 21 have broken down.

The hospital made what it called its “last and final” offer Jan. 28 and asked for a vote on the proposal. The union met following the acceptance of that offer and 93 percent of those in attendance “voted to adopt an action plan to get a fair contract,” said UFCW 21 spokesman Tom Geiger.

“Implied in that is the belief that the current proposal is not looked at very favorably,” Geiger added.

In addition, the union has filed six unfair labor charges against Harrison with the National Labor Relations Board.

One of the main sticking points revolves around the ability of Pro-Tech workers to honor picket lines if other workers at the hospital should ever strike.

“What’s being proposed is not the removal of a no strike clause, but removal of an article of protection to honor a strike of someone else,” Geiger said.

Jacquie Goodwill, a Harrison spokesperson, describes it as the only issue that remains in the negotiations.

“The patient care environment is too critical and we feel that our patients will be at risk if the UFCW is allowed to strike,” Goodwill said. “This is a common clause in healthcare contracts, including other UFCW healthcare contracts. Harrison has proposed the same language as it now exists in the nurses’ contract, which does not permit a nurse to refuse to care for patients by not crossing another unit’s picket line.”

Goodwill said that a host of other UFCW contracts covering professional and/or technical employees in healthcare provide the “labor peace guarantees,” as they are called, that Harrison is proposing. Some of those include MultiCare, Jefferson Healthcare, St. Joseph Medical Center, Evergreen Medical Center, Children’s Hospital, Grays Harbor Community Hospital, Highline Medical Center, Whidbey General Hospital and Dynacare Laboratories.

Goodwill also says that several other agreements between the hospital and Pro-Tech employees have been reached, including a $200 per employee ratification bonus, a 2 percent increase now and 2.5 percent increase in September, continue annual step increases of 2 to 2.5 percent and market adjustment for agreed-upon job positions.

Goodwill also notes that a new contract will also maintain Sound Health & Wellness Trust insurance at the same premium levels as provided in the last contract.

Geiger, though, says there are other issues at play and notes that nothing is agreed to until it’s actually agreed to.

“There was an earlier portrayal by the hospital that there had been a so-called tentative agreement on all these other points,” he said. “That was just wrong.”

Another concern for the union is the length of the contract.

“It is essentially less than a two-year contract,” he said. “Part of our concern about that is that is at the same time that the hand-off over to the Franciscans is going to be more substantial and formalized. Then we’d be right back at negotiating a contract, including the health plan, with the Franciscans.”

Goodwill said that the hospital originally proposed a three-year contract that was contingent on Pro-Tech employees migrating to the Harrison benefit plan, which serves all other Harrison employees, including senior executives.

“However, because they want to maintain their own Sound Health and Wellness Trust healthcare plan, and we agreed to no increases in the employee premiums from the existing contract, we proposed a two-year contract,” she said. “It was a major concession on our part to allow them to maintain a separate healthcare plan from the Harrison plan. As a result, it will need to be renegotiated in two years.”

Goodwill also said that Harrison maintains the authority to approve contracts.

“It has not been transferred to Franciscan,” she said. “The affiliation did not alter the structure of our team, nor the way we negotiated.”

Geiger said he is hopeful that the union and Harrison can reach agreement.

“I’m optimistic that ultimately there will be a fair contract that is settled,” he said. “We’d prefer to get there without any actions by the workers. There will need to be a change from this aggressive behavior they’ve had for months and a return to negotiations with a change to their proposal.”


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