All United Food and Commercial Workers employees at Grays Harbor Community Hospital will notice a two percent increase in wages in their Dec. 23 paycheck, but that does not mean negotiations between the hospital and the union are anywhere near an end.
Tom Jensen, hospital CEO, said in a statement, “Because of the length of time we have spent at the bargaining table and to acknowledge the patience of our staff, I, along with our leadership team, felt it was important to recognize the hard work and accomplishments of our staff this Christmas.”
The wage increase was announced Monday and is effective from Dec. 4. According to the hospital statement, “This wage offer had no conditions attached and was merely an offer to bring some cheer this holiday season.”
The union accepted the offer with the understanding that, by agreeing to this increase, neither the hospital nor the union are waiving their current wage proposals, and both sides will continue to negotiate over the timing and amount of increases for unit employees during the term of a new contract, in addition to other open items. “It is my hope that we will be able to conclude our negotiations soon after we reconvene at the table Jan. 20, 2017,” said Jensen.
The hospital’s announcement was made a day before UFCW Local 21 planned to hold several demonstrations in front of the hospital, including morning and lunchtime informational picketing and a candlelight vigil from 4:30-6 p.m. UFCW Local 21 Unit Representative and a hospital employee for nearly 40 years John Warring said those demonstrations are still on; “In fact, I’m heading out right now to set up signs,” he said Monday afternoon.
One of those “other open items” in the negotiations mentioned in the hospital’s Monday statement is health coverage. The union has proposed the hospital get away from its current self-insurance program and sign up for a state program, which Warring said will save the hospital more than $1 million over the next three years. The current private plan, which the registered nurses’ union accepted along with three percent wage increases in their separate negotiations, is too expensive for other UFCW workers, who make substantially less money, according to Warring.
“With the registered nurses the hospital settled in three sections; three, three and three, plus market adjustments in various steps,” said Warring, talking about percentages of wage increases. “They haven’t given us anything above two.” He says the union also thought they “had an agreement with (the hospital) on principal in switching to uniform health plans, but at the last minute they pulled that off the table.” The registered nurses agreed to keep the old health plan with freezes in the first year and increases in deductibles the last year, he said. “Given the RNs make $50 to $100,000 a year if they work full time, and in past years some have made more than $200,000 a year with overtime, they can afford to keep the old plan. For housekeepers, dietary aides and folks who start out around $12.50 an hour, those increases are a pretty rough road to hoe.” He also says the hospital has not provided any assurances that insurance costs for dependents will not go up.
The issue with a self-insured medical plan like that of GHCH comes when an employee’s medical expenses reach the maximum amount the hospital can pay, in this case $100,000. In case an employee reaches that maximum amount, the hospital carries a stop loss plan, insurance that kicks in when the limit for an employee is reached. Without a stop loss plan, if the number of employees that reaches the $100,000 limit becomes too great it can drain the hospital’s health fund and ultimately cause any self-insured entity to go bankrupt.
“The problem is with that type of plan here is the group is relatively small,” said Warring. “It doesn’t take many claims to add up to more than $100,000. The advantage with the (public health plan) is there are 450,000 state employees to spread the cost around.”
Union members have been distributing flyers around town describing what they consider to be a fair deal with the hospital. It says, in part, “We have open specialized positions we need to fill but again with non-competitive wages and benefits we are both unable to recruit into these positions or retain staff. Again, GHCH is not offering competitive wages to ensure our community has these skilled healthcare workers at our hospital. That means community members leaving our hospital to receive care elsewhere. That is unacceptable.” Also unacceptable, reads the flyer, is the hospital’s refusal to “provide options to ensure staff is rested prior to providing care to patients which could both jeopardize patients, coworkers and us.”