Chanting and holding signs with messages such as “Patients & Workers Deserve Better” and “Living Wages Now,” dozens of unionized workers held an informational picket on the outskirts of the campus of Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia on Wednesday.
“I’m tired of being treated like a second-class citizen,” said Chris Griffin, a sterile processing technician and member of the union’s bargaining team.
The event was organized by Service Employees International Union Healthcare 1199NW, which represents about 560 clinical and service workers at the hospital, including certified nursing assistants, cooks, housekeepers and workers who staff the registration desk.
The two groups have held nine bargaining sessions since July, according to hospital spokesman Chris Thomas.
Under the current contract, members start at $13.14 an hour, and the group’s median wage is $17.66 an hour, union officials say.
Providence began bargaining with no proposed takeaways from the prior contract, and the hospital’s latest offer would give most caregivers covered by the contract 3 to 3.5 percent pay increases each year over a four-year period, Thomas said.
Griffin said the hospital’s nurses, which belong to a different union, were given bigger raises than what’s been offered to the service workers.
“I think they need to treat us as fairly, as they treat the other employees, and give us a living wage,” he said.
Thomas said negotiations are ongoing, and Providence wants to get back to the bargaining table “as soon as SEIU is willing.”
“We ensure our employees receive market competitive wages to attract and retain the best talent possible,” he said.
Wages might be the top concern for many of the members, but it’s not the only one.
Nancy Govaars, a perioperative support assistant and member of the union’s bargaining team, said she’s concerned about the staffing levels and variable shifts that are proposed in the new contract.
She’s worked at the hospital for nearly a decade and said she’s more hopeful about the current contract negotiations than she was four years ago, when the service workers went on strike to draw attention to changes in their insurance plan.
“We were very angry and very disappointed then,” Govaars said. “… Now I’m just frustrated.”