Harrison workers authorize one-day strike

Professional and technical workers at Harrison Medical Center overwhelmingly authorized a one-day strike during voting in Bremerton on Tuesday.

Officials from UFCW 21, the union representing the more than 700 workers, said 88 percent of those who voted authorized a strike. The union now must give the hospital a 10-day notice before actually striking. The hospital and the union are set to go into mediation June 17 and 18.

"The health care workers’ desire is to be able to focus on taking care of patients and having a reasonable conclusion to negotiations with the employer restoring the historic approach to respectful conduct," said UFCW 21 spokesman Tom Geiger. "Workers have taken steps repeatedly over the last seven months to make their concerns clear to management."

In a letter to workers ahead of the vote, Harrison CEO Scott Bosch said the hospital is committed to negotiating in good faith to reach a fair settlement.

"I am incredibly disappointed in the push to strike and other strong-arm tactics union leaders have used before our new talks have even begun," Bosch wrote, referring to the upcoming mediation sessions.

Geiger said that the relationship between Harrison and its employees has been relatively civil for decades and contract negotiations were generally able to conclude short of a dispute.

"Unfortunately, all that changed in 2013," Geiger said. "Harrison, after the affiliation with Franciscan Health System, has taken a very aggressive and combative approach in bargaining a new contract with over 700 Pro Tech workers."

Contract negotiations between the hospital and the ProTech workers began in June 2013 and the workers' contract expired in September 2013. Workers voted in March of this year, rejecting a "final" proposal from Harrison by an 81 percent margin.

Geiger said that the Seattle office of the National Labor Relations Board, which will not comment publicly about ongoing cases, found that Harrison broke the law when it demanded workers to cease a leafleting, called in police and conducted surveillance as well as when it conducted direct bargaining.

Jacquie Goodwill, Harrison's director of marketing and communication, said the union also violated the law amidst the ongoing negotiations, but was unwilling to say how.

"We're not going there," she said. "It is counterproductive to the negotiations. We want to keep our doors open and are committed to furthering the conversation in a productive way."

In his letter to workers ahead of the vote, Bosch said union negotiators told a federal mediator that they could agree on much of what Harrison proposed, but only if Harrison dropped its proposal over a no-strike clause.

"That clause does not prevent you from striking when your own contract expires and if negotiations come to an impasse," Bosch wrote. "Similar provisions are commonly found in hospital contracts to protect patient care, and UFCW has agreed to similar provisions at many other hospitals."

Several other issues remain on the table. Workers say that they want a contract that lasts three years like they have had for more than three decades and a contract that protects their healthcare. Workers also want a contract that doesn't weaken the union's grievance procedure, continues to require management to respond in a timely manner and protects and ensures the union's ability to stand together with co-workers if they have a strike or dispute.

In the event of a strike, Bosch said the hospital will take steps to provide exceptional patient care at all times.

"Under the law, employers have the right to hire replacement workers for employees who go on strike," he wrote. "In some cases, Harrison may need to hire permanent replacements rather than temporary workers. Any such decision will be based on patient care needs and business necessity."

Bosch also noted that Harrison will provide any bargaining unit members who wish to cross a picket line with guarded parking areas and transportation through the picket line to work.

Harrison’s most recent offer included the following provisions:

• a 2 percent pay increase now, and a 2.5 percent increase in September

• continued annual step increases of 2 to 2.5 percent

• increase the weekend premium to $2.15 from $2 per hour

• retention of the Sound Health & Wellness Trust health insurance with no change in costs to employees this calendar year and a minimal increase in 2015 when insurance rates rise

• for those who recently joined the bargaining unit, benefits coverage during the eligibility waiting period, in addition to paying Sound Health & Wellness Trust plan premiums on the same basis as for all other employees in the ProTech unit

• a ratification bonus that approximates pay increases employees would have received if the contract had been approved when the old contract expired - For example, if an employee makes $25 an hour as a 1.0 FTE, upon ratification that employee would make $25.50 after the initial wage increase. Based on Harrison’s proposal, the employee would get a ratification bonus of $550 dollars ($.50 x 1,100 = $550).

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