McKenzie-Willamette Workers Tout Wage Gains In New Labor Contract

McKenzie Willamette Medical Center by Christian Wihtol.jpg

Service workers at McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center in Springfield won some of their biggest pay raises in a decade in the latest labor contract negotiations, Service Employees International Union Local 49 said.

The union, which represents about 400 workers, had planned a strike for later this week, but called it off when the sides reached a tentative agreement last week. Union members ratified the new deal on Friday. The previous contract had expired July 31.

The union represents a wide range of workers, from pharmacy and MRI technicians to certified nursing assistants, custodians, cooks and housekeepers.

The two-year contract will give most workers a sizeable pay raise. With annual cost of living increases, special one-time increases and annual step increases, many workers will see their pay go up as much as 17 percent over the two years, said union spokesperson Rae Dunnaville. The majority of workers will receive an average 12 percent pay increase by the end of the contract, she said.

A sizeable part of the increase for many is a special one-time pay bump of 3-4 percent that the hospital will give to “chronically underpaid jobs,” such as lower-grade nursing assistants, secretaries, dietary workers and housekeepers, Dunnaville said.

Union members had complained that management sought to substantially increase how much of the premium of their company-provided health insurance they had to pay. The union said it won a deal that limits to five percent per year the premium cost increases. The hospital also agreed to provide health care subsidies to the lowest-paid workers, those receiving under $38,000 a year for fulltime work or $30,000 a year for part-time work, the union said.

Furthermore, the agreement increases the number of SEIU-represented workers on the hospital’s labor-management and nurse staffing committees. Dunnaville said that will give workers a larger say in staffing. Union members had complained that low staffing levels were jeopardizing care.

McKenzie-Willamette officials were not available for comment Tuesday.

For-profit McKenzie-Willamette is Oregon’s most profitable hospital as measured by profit margin. For 2018, it reported a profit of $40.5 million on revenues of $238 million, for a 17 percent profit margin. McKenzie is owned by a struggling national chain, Quorum Health, which lost $659 million over the past three years. Most of Quorum’s hospitals lose money or eke out only a slim profit.

McKenzie-Willamette’s SEIU-represented workers said they need the higher pay the contract will bring.

“I have worked at McKenzie-Willamette hospital for over 15 years, and as a single mother it has sometimes been a struggle to afford rent and bills and things that my family needs,” said Alejandra Garcia, a certified nursing assistant in the emergency department. “Our raises mean that I will be making thousands of dollars more each year. That will make a big difference for my family because my daughter is starting college, and I will be able to help more with the costs.”

Aaron Green, a certified nursing assistant, said the higher pay and an improved method for valuing past work experience will help attract job candidates. 

You can reach Christian Wihtol at [email protected]



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