More PeaceHealth workers unionize
More than 350 local PeaceHealth technical unit workers, including respiratory therapists and pharmacy technicians, have voted to unionize.
They voted to join the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the union said Thursday.
With the addition of the 350 technical unit workers, about half of PeaceHealth’s workforce of 6,000 part- and full-time employees are covered by a union.
Several technical unit employees said they voted for the union to ensure that their work stayed focused on patient care and that they had a voice to advocate for patients, fair working conditions and professional standards.
“I am joining AFT to help bring back patient care as the No. 1 priority,” radiology technologist Warren Walsh said in the union’s news release. “Too often decisions are made by nonclinical administration only viewing the bottom line. We need adequate staffing and fair, consistent, equitable treatment of staff. PeaceHealth clearly needs caregiver guidance with these issues.”
PeaceHealth is a Catholic affiliated health care system based in Vancouver, Wash. It is the dominant health care provider in Lane County, operating four area hospitals, a doctors group and other services.
Technical unit workers at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield are the latest group of PeaceHealth workers to organize.
Several groups of local PeaceHealth workers have unionized in the past two years, including more than 1,000 cooks, housekeepers, certified nursing assistants and others who voted to join SEIU Local 49 in 2015.
PeaceHealth appreciates the “respectful manner” in which the technical unit workers considered the labor issue and each others’ points of view, PeaceHealth spokeswoman Marcy Marshall said in an email.
“As we move forward together, our focus remains on our deeply held commitment to provide quality and compassionate care to our patients and their families, while also working with each and every one of our caregivers to ensure our PeaceHealth facilities are not only the best places to get care, but the best places to give care,” she said.
Labor is a significant cost for hospitals and can exceed half of a hospital’s operating costs, according to some estimates.
Union workers in the United States generally are paid higher wages than their nonunion counterparts, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
For example, full-time union health care support workers had median weekly earnings of $602, which was $82 more than for nonunion health care workers, BLS figures show.
That might lead some to assume that labor costs rise as more workers are unionized, and those expenses probably are passed to patients in the form of higher-priced services.
Marshall and other health care sources said that’s not the case.
PeaceHealth offers market competitive wages and benefits for all employees — union or not, Marshall said.
“The presence of a union does not directly affect our labor costs,” she said.
Higher labor costs from unionization don’t necessarily result in higher costs for patients because better pay can lead workers to be more productive, or for employers to use fewer workers to do the same amount of work. Also hospitals could immediately pass on higher costs only to patients paying their own medical bills. They couldn’t demand more from government insurance plans, such as Medicare and Medicaid, for example, which pay hospitals a set amount for services.
Following Wednesday’s vote, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will take up to seven days to certify the election, Marshall said. Then, the parties will prepare to negotiate the collective bargaining agreement, she said.
The NLRB is an independent U.S. government agency that enforces labor law related to collective bargaining and unfair labor practices.
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) represents more than 5,000 health care professionals throughout PeaceHealth’s system in Washington, Oregon and Alaska, the union said.
Nationwide, the AFT represents 130,000 health care professionals, making it the second-largest health care union in the United States, the union said.
Follow Sherri Buri McDonald on Twitter @sburimcdonald . Email firstname.lastname@example.org .