April 26th will mark the third bargaining session this year for MultiCare Auburn Medical Center (MAMC) and SEIU Healthcare 1199NW. SEIU Healthcare 1199NW represents 350 healthcare workers employed at MAMC. While each session moves the overall negotiations closer to a final contract agreement, several key issues remain. To help raise awareness for tomorrow’s negotiations, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW represents have employed three billboards around Auburn.
Patient Care Equals Community
“The 350 healthcare workers at MultiCare Auburn have been asking management to listen to their serious concerns for over eight months, since they started union contract negotiations on July 31, 2018, and their contract expired on September 30 last year. Recently, caregivers filed federal charges against MultiCare for violating labor law,” states a press release put out by SEIU Healthcare 1199NW.
“Nurses and caregivers are calling on MultiCare executives to focus resources on quality patient care, safe staffing and fair wages that will recruit and retain qualified staff,” continues the press release. “MultiCare certainly has the resources to invest in quality care and good jobs for the local community. In 2018, MultiCare Health System had $2.9 billion in operating revenue and over $1.8 billion in cash reserves.”
In contract negotiations, each group gathers in a separate room at the chosen location. Items being negotiated are volleyed between groups for review until an agreement is met on that issue. In these current negotiations, once an agreement is met it cannot be revoked.
One quarrel negotiating members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW have is that MultiCare is holding the MAMC contract to the standards of Pierce County. Being in South King County, most MAMC workers have living expenses associated with King County.
“Caring for patients at MultiCare Auburn Medical Center is all about giving back to my community because I live near the hospital,” said Saina Covello, who has been a certified nursing assistant in the Medical-Surgical Department for nine years and has lived in Auburn for 15. “But when I have 10 patients on the night shift who have just gone through surgery, and I have to reposition them, walk them, take them to the bathroom and other duties, it is absolutely overwhelming. Part of why we’re severely understaffed is that we’re underpaid. I’m raising a 16-year old and everything from food to gas is going up. Instead of wasting resources on professional sports team sponsorships, MultiCare needs to invest in patient care and good jobs for our community.”
Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, President Larry Brown shared his opinion on the on-going contract negotiations, “this contract negotiation is very important because this unit is lagging behind in pay and the employer is lagging in staffing. The below market pay is problematic because it tends to drag other groups of workers down when they are at the bargaining table. Low pay and inadequate staffing also leads to higher levels of employee turnover. Turnover leads to all kinds of problems including impacts on patient safety.”
Keeping the Public Aware and the Pressure On
Before each bargaining session, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW reminds MultiCare why this is important to them. In February a community rally and informational picket were held. Prior to their session at the start of April, a storyboard poster was sent to MultiCare executives, with individual workers explaining what MultiCare investing in them meant to them. And this week, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW has implemented a campaign utilizing billboards and a social media campaign.
“The billboards are part of an overall public information effort that also includes a website called www.MAMCPutCareFirst.org which allows users to email and call MAMC President Mark Smith; social media posts using the hashtag #MAMCPutCareFirst; an online video featuring frontline healthcare workers speaking out; a mobile billboard which will circle the hospital and MultiCare headquarters in Tacoma; and escalating public actions,” said the a press release.
MultiCare Media Relations Manager Mark Swart shared that MultiCare is “optimistic about tomorrow’s negotiations and we hope to move ahead together. We remain committed to providing all of our employees with competitive wages and benefits.”