Hospital service workers at Legacy Good Sam want greater pay and get this: Better healthcare benefits
July 2, 2009 -- The employment contract for service workers at Legacy Good Samaritan hospital expired Wednesday (June 30) without agreement after negotiations broke down between SEIU Local 49 and Legacy management.
The union represents 250 hospital employees, everyone from cooks and housekeeping to patient service associates and emergency room technicians, basically everyone except nurses on up.
The union says service employees at Good Sam earn less than other Legacy workers and they want better healthcare benefits. One man, a cook for more than 10 years, pays $550 per month to insure his family.
“It’s kind of ironic to work in a hospital and not be able to provide care to your own families,” said Shauna Ballo, SEIU organizer. “There are in some situations people who work here at a hospital and work here for years and years, and they qualify to put themselves on the Oregon Health Plan.”
Legacy spokesman Brian Terrett said he couldn’t address the specific cases. “We’re confident we offer employees comprehensive health benefits,” Terrett said. “SEIU is asking for specific benefits above and beyond what we offer other employees.”
“While Legacy says they give the same healthcare to everyone,” said Ballo, “We know it’s not true because we know that the doctors here pay only $16 per month. You’d think a hospital would be able to provide healthcare coverage to their employees at a negligible expense because they’re providing the health coverage themselves.”
Terrett said Legacy does offer the least expensive care. “Employees who choose to go to a Legacy provider to receive a Legacy service, based on the fact we are self-insured, are probably getting the best possible cost out of anybody,” he said.
Jay Redmond, an ER tech and SEIU bargaining team member, says there are lots of outstanding issues. “Our number one issue right now is unity between Good Sam and Legacy. We’re represented on two separate contracts and bargaining every two to three years for each different place for the same things over and over again.”
The union says Good Sam workers earn 20 percent less than workers with the same position at other Legacy hospitals, which are not unionized, and 14 percent behind workers at Legacy Emanuel, which SEIU Local 49 also represents.
“We feel they pay union employees less just because we’re union and no other reason,” Redmond said.
To this, Terrett says flatly: Untrue. Legacy has analyzed wages, he said, and found there is no difference across categories from one facility to another.
“The reality is the pay structure is the same for people whether they work at one location or another,” he said. “It’s not geographic specific. There’s no way there would be a difference.”
Redmond added more grievances. “They’ve cut a lot of staffing positions, putting the staff in a position where they’re working too hard and they’re putting patient care at risk and their own health at risk,” she said. “They’re cutting nurses too. We’re getting sent home early a lot even in the emergency room.”
Gene Ross is a retired minister of the United Church of Christ and belongs to the faith labor committee with Portland Jobs with Justice.
"We're dealing with very important justice issues when it comes to looking at what’s happening to the health institutions in our society today,” Ross said. “Many hospitals like Good Sam began in the context of the faith community, holding up the dignity of all human beings, especially when they happen to be hospitals."
“I think some of them have forgotten the roots of which they’ve sprung and the mandate of their faith community has been changed to the bottom line of the ledger paper,” Ross added. “That needs to change. It’s not only happening here; it’s happening at other hospitals in the city and across this country.”
Terrett said the team at Legacy is positive they will reach a fair contract.
"Up until the point when SEIU announced they would do a picket yesterday, everybody felt like the negotiations were moving right along," he said. "We feel confident everyone will be happy with the outcome."
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