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Harrison workers’ supporters come out in force
There wasn’t enough room in his office and the hallway didn’t seem right.
So, Harrison Medical Center CEO Scott Bosch received about 30 labor, faith and political leaders in the conference room of the hospital in Bremerton Monday afternoon. The meeting with Bosch, wearing his ever-present yellow smiley face button on the lapel of his suit, came on the eve of two days of federally mediated negotiations between the hospital and some 700 Professional and Technical workers represented by UFCW 21.
The meeting also took place less than one week after the workers voted to authorize a one-day strike.
“Amen,” Bosch said Monday when Bremerton City Councilwoman Leslie Daugs, spearheading the delegation, read part of one letter urging the hospital and workers to come to a fair and satisfactory contract.
Another section of that same letter, signed by various union leaders, business owners, pastors, Daugs and fellow city council member Dino Davis, and various other community members, states: “We are hurt when those we rely on for quality care are not getting the respect they deserve. Healthcare workers are part of our community. They are in our PTAs, they coach our kids, they are members of our congregations, they are our neighbors, our families. They are us. That is why it is our sincere desire for both parties to work out a satisfactory contract.”
Daugs, a member of SEIU Local 925 whose district includes the hospital in Bremerton, told Bosch that her support for the workers is personal.
“These people have taken care of many members of my family and that is why this is very dear to my heart,” she said. “My father’s been here a few times. We’ve delivered children in this hospital. I think these hospital workers deserve a fair chance and we need to make sure to work for them because it’s not just them, it’s the patients as well.”
Bishop Larry Robinson said he was attending the meeting as a concerned citizen and not in any official capacity via Emmanuel Apostolic Church or its board.
“I’m here because I believe in the workers, but I’m also here because I know you to be a fair man,” Robinson told Bosch. “I’ve known you many years and I believe you will do everything that you can to make things the way they should be.”
Bosch said both sides wanted to get back to the bargaining much sooner than this week, but were held up by the schedule of a federal mediator.
“We knew we needed mediation because it was a very difficult time and there are a lot of issues,” Bosch said. “So, we both agreed we should wait for the federal mediator.”
Bosch also said that the negotiations, which started a year ago, have drug on longer than anybody would have liked.
“The things you have said are things I’ve said for the last 10 years,” Bosch told the visitors. “We recognize how important we are to this community. We’re here 24/7, 365 because that’s what our community needs. It is imperative that we have excellent employees because it is all about the employees. It really is. We’ve had great contracts in the past. We think a lot of what’s on the table is pretty competitive.”
Bosch said that the ongoing negotiations are personal for him, too.
“Many of the people that are involved in this, I play golf, I drink beer with, you know, and have known for a long time,” he said. “Believe me, we do not want to get into any further controversy. However, we’ve got our job to do and hopefully we can find our way through this, but the hospital will remain open.”
Bosch also knocked down what he called rumors of threats to workers, possible lockouts and any possible retaliation against workers.
One of the letters delivered to Bosch Monday was penned by House Speaker Frank Chopp who was born at Harrison and grew up in East Bremerton. Bosch said he also spoke with Chopp during a phone call late last week.
In his letter, Chopp encouraged both sides to bargain in good faith “and work towards reasonable positions.”
According to Chopp, those “reasonable positions” include exactly what ProTech workers are asking for: continuing current healthcare for all employees by agreeing to a three-year contract; maintaining the ability of employees in different bargaining units to support one another’s job actions; maintaining the medical center’s longstanding grievance process; and providing pay increases back to the expiration date of the contract.
“Health care workers are not only employees at the medical center, but are also part of the broader community,” Chopp wrote. “It would be of great benefit to the community to have both sides work out a satisfactory contract.”
Bosch wasn’t the only one to get an earful from hospital workers and their supporters on Monday. The Bremerton City Council, which usually meets on Wednesdays, held it’s business session Monday night so that several members of the council could travel to an Association of Washington Cities annual conference in Spokane. Before they left, though, they heard a lot about Harrison.
During public comments, Kristen Beifus, a community organizer with UFCW 21, spoke about the city’s ongoing investment into the hospital and why the council should take a leadership role in sticking up for workers and keeping the hospital open in Bremerton. She noted that as a non-profit, the hospital is forgiven hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of Business and Occupation taxes by the city every year. She also noted that the city and state have committed about $2 million to the Lower Wheaton Way Project which will be a direct benefit to Harrison and those who go there.
“In the last year, Harrison Medical Center has outsourced 128 business jobs to a company based in Tacoma, outsourced its IT halfway around the world and outsourced its payroll across the country,” Beifus said. “Harrison Medical Center has been found in violation of labor law — harassing its employees and even putting them under surveillance.”
Beifus went on to outline Harrison efforts to eliminate workers’ grievance procedure, downgrade healthcare and cut the length of the contract in half. She also said Harrison officials have threatened to replace all 750 workers if they go out on a legal strike and recently announced the likely closure of the hospital in Bremerton, something some workers found out about in the press.
“That does not sound like a very good return on investment to me — loss of jobs, poor treatment of workers and closure of a vital economic driver in this town,” Beifus said.