After 3 Years, SEIU, Providence Milwaukie Hospital Agree To A Contract

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Providence Milwaukie Hospital employees who voted nearly three years ago to be represented by SEIU Local 49 now have a contract.

The agreement, which covers support staff, marks a first at Providence Health and Services, Oregon’s largest hospital system. Though the Oregon Nursing Association has bargaining units representing registered nurses at Providence, until now, none of its eight hospitals, including three in the Portland area, had a contract with the Service Employees International Union. 

Both sides expressed relief that a deal had been reached after more than 30 bargaining sessions.

“It’s like I can breathe again,” Michelle Hitchcock, an image scheduler at the hospital and a member of the bargaining team, said in a statement. “We were stretched thin before the pandemic and this last year has been one of the toughest years of my career, yet we remained unified and steadily worked to win the protections to keep us and our patients safe.” 

The agreement met the 77-bed hospital’s goals of being able to provide additional pay for high-performing employees and maintain market-competitive compensation and benefits, Providence said in a statement.

“The represented caregivers will receive increases of 2% the first year and 1.5% in the second and third years of the agreement,” Providence said. “There are also provisions for merit increases (based on performance) and market adjustments to compensation as needed.”

The contract covers 170 housekeepers, certified nursing assistants, phlebotomists, dietary staff and other support staff who represent nearly 40% of the 450 employees at the hospital. The union members voted overwhelmingly on Friday to approve the contract, which followed a marathon 20-hour-long bargaining session last Monday.

The contract gives most of the union members a 13% raise over the next three years, it said in a statement. The cumulative raise will come from a combination of the annual cost of living increases plus step increases that reward years of experience.

The new wage scale will bring the biggest improvement, according to Julie Schafer, a health unit coordinator in a medical-surgical unit and member of the bargaining team.

She said until now pay for support staff was unconnected to longevity.

“There wasn’t a typical wage,” Schafer told The Lund Report. “They were hiring people and paying them more than people who were already there.”

The contract lays out a wage scale based on years of service with benchmarks set for every five years. The scale replaced a range -- with a predetermined minimum, mid-range and maximum -- that gave managers discretion on how much to pay staff. Schafer said the new wage scale has bumped up everyone’s wages, with those at the bottom -- like housekeepers who have earned just over $14 an hour and certified nursing assistants who made about $16 an hour -- benefitting the most.

The wage scale increases hourly wages by $2 to $3 an hour for many people,  Schafer said. 

In the past, raises were also discretionary, and managers were not required to spell out the reasons behind their decisions, Schafer said. 

“Some people hadn’t gotten a raise for three years,” Schafer said. “We have people in tears over their increases -- happy tears.”

The new pay arrangement gives unionized staff financial security, Schafer said. The contract includes guarantees on paid time off and the assurance that workers will have union support in any conflicts with management, she added.

Reaching an agreement on the wage scale was tough, and at times it seemed the sides would never agree. 

“They didn’t really want us to have a union,” Schafer said. “Providence kept dragging its feet.”

Union members picketed the hospital in January, and three weeks ago they voted to authorize a strike.

The negotiations advanced and the staff didn’t stage a walkout.

The union members didn’t get everything they wanted. 

“I would have liked to have seen our incentive (pay)  increase for evening and night work,” Schafer said. “They were a hard ‘No’ on that.”

The contract lasts for three years.

Shafer hopes any hard feelings will be put in the past.

“I want to have good relations with the administration,” Shafer said. “We’re a small hospital and the workers are like family.” 

You can reach Lynne Terry at [email protected] or on Twitter @LynnePDX.


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