Providence, union even disagree on status

Hospital says it will sweeten offer if workers ratify by Monday

rboone@theolympian.comJuly 2, 2013 

Providence St. Peter Hospital and unionized employees were still at odds Monday on a new labor contract after the hospital made its final offer to the union last week.

Both sides said Monday that nothing had changed: The hospital has made its final offer, while the union, the Service Employees International Union 1199NW, was sticking to its position.

“We believe implementing at this time would be unlawful,” dietary worker and bargaining team member Barbie Freitag said in a statement. “We are not at impasse,” she added.

But the hospital disagreed.

“We have no doubt that we are at impasse,” spokeswoman Deborah Shawver said, pointing out that talks have been facilitated by a federal mediator since August 2012. The same mediator also said last month that it would not be productive to meet again due to the lack of movement, although the hospital is willing to do so if the mediator advises it.

The union represents hundreds of service workers at the hospital.

The two sides have been in negotiations for more than a year, including a five-day strike in March, largely due to changes to employee health care plans.

Although still negotiating, the health care changes took effect at the beginning of the year, and wage proposals now are set to take effect Monday, with or without the union’s consent.

“After slashing employee health care during bargaining, Providence is now threatening to further ignore the bargaining process and implement its own version of a new contract,” Freitag said in a statement.

If the union ratifies the new contract by Monday, the hospital is prepared to sweeten its offer by paying workers an additional $250 per year over three years for their health reimbursement account or health savings account.

The hospital eliminated a more traditional health care plan and replaced it with the two account-based plans, while also cutting two Group Health options to just one.

The account-based plans, such as the health savings account, typically have higher deductibles and more out-of-pocket expenses, but the money in the accounts, unlike a flexible spending account, can be rolled over each year, and the accounts are portable.

Providence, too, is willing to fund those accounts — $700 for an individual, $1,400 for a family, plus the $250 per year sweetener if the contract is signed by Monday — if employees agree to wellness incentives, such as a health screening and identifying a primary care doctor.

Although changes to health care are the larger issue for the union, here is the hospital’s wage proposal, according to a news release:

 • A 2 percent raise once the contract is ratified, plus continuation of step increases of approximately 2 percent.

 • A 2 percent raise on June 1, 2014, plus another 0.5 percent on Jan. 1, 2015, plus continuation of step increases of approximately 2 percent.

 • A 2 percent raise on June 1, 2015, plus another 0.5 percent on Jan. 1, 2016, plus continuation of step increases of approximately 2 percent.

“Justice is one of our core values as an organization, and after careful deliberations, our leadership concluded that we cannot let our employees go any longer without raises,” Providence vice president of human resources Susan Meenk said in a statement.

Service workers last received an across-the-board raise in July 2011, according to the hospital.

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

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