A labor union representing 120 healthcare workers at Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital recently voted to ratify a new three-year contract with hospital management. The workers have been in negotiations for months to reach wage parity with other Samaritan hospitals, as all as receiving more affordable healthcare plans.
Just over four years ago, workers at SNLH joined the SEIU Local 49 union and are now in their second union contract according to SEIU Local 49 President Meg Niemi.
“I think North Lincoln hospital workers thought it was really time for them to be treated equally and get fair compensation and they saw that they were paying more for their health care benefits as well,” Niemi said.
Workers at other hospitals in the Samaritan system - Good Samaritan Regional Medical System and Albany General Hospital - were paid, in some cases, thousands of dollars a year more than workers at SNLH doing the same jobs. Under the new contract, sterile processing techs, dietary workers, housekeepers and phlebotomists will earn parity raises on top of their across-the-board raises that all union members will earn over the life of the contract.
“Everyone will receive at least a 6.75 percent increase over the course of the three years,” Niemi said. “In addition to that, workers get annual step increases to reward their longevity. I would say it’s more than 10 percent wage increases over the life of the contract and for some positions that were really behind, it’ll be significantly more.”
Along with the wage increases, healthcare workers at the hospital are also receiving more affordable healthcare plans. In a bargaining survey, 42 percent of workers said they avoided seeking medical care because they were afraid of the cost. Healthcare workers also reported being sent to collections after being unable to pay for care they received at Samaritan facilities.
The new contract lowers the caps on employee-only premiums, putting money back in the pockets of some workers. It also stops collections and garnishment of wages on medical bills for employees who are making reasonable payment plans, and guarantee financial assistance for low-income workers.
For some of the SNLH workers, the wage increase and new healthcare plans could not have come at a better time.
“I'm actually in the process of buying a home right now and it was really important for me to be able to get that wage increase,” CT Special Imaging Technician Brittany King said. “When my home is purchased, I’ll be able to afford my housing, my food and my benefits. I won't have to make a decision between which one I'm going to choose.”
With the cost of living rising statewide, Niemi knows how important it is to have comprable wages for the SNLH workers in order to retain quality employees.
“One of the things that's really important to us is to have qualified, committed staff,” Niemi said. “There’s sort of this belief that the cost of living is too expensive on the coast and we've seen the cost of living increase all over Oregon and increase exponentially. We think this will help with staffing and making sure that there's adequate staffing in the hospital to care for the patients.”
Niemi said it is important for workers to be apart of an organized union because it gives them the ability to bargain for what they think is fair for the work they do and if they don't have a union, management makes the decision and offers them whatever they want.
“I think having that union is the reason that we were able to bring up the wages and I think without having that bargaining, it wouldn’t have happened on it’s own,” Niemi said.
King feels the new contract will help workers at SNLH feel more secure in their job and stressed the importance of coming together to receive equity.
“People constantly think ‘am I going to have to leave this job to go somewhere else?’” King said. “The fact that we won our contracts means these people that were thinking about leaving are going to be able to stay here and actually live here.
“I feel like the community should be very proud that we are able to keep the wonderful employees that we have with the contract that we won from the union.”