Union delivers strike notice to Providence St. Peter Hospital

Service employees union unhappy with health care choices offered by Providence St. Peter

rboone@theolympian.comMarch 1, 2013 

The union that represents several hundred workers at Providence St. Peter Hospital put the hospital on notice Thursday afternoon, telling hospital officials the union is set to go on strike in 10 days if the two sides can’t come to agreement about a new health care plan for hospital employees.

The new health care plan took effect Jan. 1.

The Service Employees International Union 1199NW, which represents about 530 workers at the hospital, including dietary, housekeeping, health unit coordinators and other workers, is set to go on strike for five days, beginning March 11 until March 16. The strike notice was delivered to the hospital about 2 p.m. Thursday, union spokeswoman Julie Popper said.

“If Providence still won’t make a commitment to affordable care, the strike will grow with 150 RNs, social workers, licensed practical nurses, and support staff from SoundHomeCare and Hospice joining the strike for three days starting March 13,” the SEIU said in a news release.

Hospital spokeswoman Deborah Shawver said Thursday that the hospital recognizes the union’s right to strike, but added that “no one wins with a strike.” In the event of a strike, the hospital will continue to provide patient care and has a contingency plan in place, she said.

“We would like to get back to the bargaining table and resolve this,” Shawver said.

Providence offered three health plans that members could choose from: a health savings account, a health reimbursement account and a more traditional health care plan offered through Group Health.

Union members are frustrated because the two account-based plans — the HSA and the HRA — replace a more traditional health care plan.

Members are accustomed to having a choice of two Group Health plans that have been merged.

Longtime hospital employee and SEIU member Kristi Curtis told The Olympian in December that the health care changes place more of a burden on the worker. The union’s message to Providence is to “take care of your employees” and that there should be “no takeaways,” she said.

If employees select one of the account-based plans, which typically have higher deductible and out-of-pocket expenses, they receive funding from Providence to the tune of $700 — or $1,400 for a family — that can be used for medical expenses. The money also can be rolled over year-to-year for the employee and family to use.

To receive the seed money, employees must participate in wellness screenings, such as for high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes. The screenings are free and the results are confidential. Employees also must identify a primary care provider as part of the process.

“We believe this is a strong plan design that not only protects employees from catastrophic costs but also gives employees choice with their medical plans and allows them to be involved in their own care,” Providence has said in a statement to employees.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403 rboone@theolympian.com theolympian.com/bizblog

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