Union vote allows one voice for hospital caregivers

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 1, 2013 

When you or your loved one is in the hospital, you want the peace of mind of knowing that caregivers at the hospital are giving the best care possible. As PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center and Lab workers, that's why we go to work every day - we care about every patient that comes through our doors and we are patients, too. That's why last month we voted to form our union with SEIU Healthcare 1199NW.

Every single hospital employee - from admitting to nursing aides to respiratory therapists to dietary workers to housekeeping - is a front-line caregiver and that's why we're so excited to be united in our union. Patients need nutritious, hot food, clean instruments for surgeons, quick and accurate X-rays, precise and reliable tests and screenings, quick and courteous registration, clean rooms and more. It takes a team to provide great care, and now that we all have a union, we can speak as a team to improve all of our jobs.

Our hospital is the one of the largest employers and an institution in our community. When we stand up for our issues as staff, we're standing up for our community too - when we improve our jobs, it improves recruitment and retention of staff and means you'll receive care from an even more experienced, dedicated team. In other hospitals, members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW have found innovative ways to work together with the hospital administration to improve staffing, upgrade our skills and make the hospital a better place to work and receive care.

For example, when UW Health/Northwest Hospital assigned two more tests for respiratory therapists to do with each patient, members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, the therapists soon found there just wasn't enough time to cover all the duties. By sitting down with management, the therapists were able to show the hospital the need to hire more therapists so that each patient got the care and attention needed. Because of this union advocacy, the hospital added these additional positions and each patient got more time with their respiratory therapist.

Members at Northwest also negotiated for a special joint labor-management committee at to look at the hospital's approach to staffing at times when the hospital has low census, or fewer patients. Before staff are sent home, this committee reviews whether there are long-term projects staff could work on and makes sure there are enough staff to cover all patient needs. This means the hospital runs better because those low-priority but important projects are being completed plus the hospital is running as efficiently as possible, even in lean times.

And at five healthcare employers statewide, when members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW wanted to improve their skills and provide a higher level of care, they worked in partnership with hospitals to create the SEIU Healthcare 1199NW Multi-Employer Training Fund. Through this fund, members can access free exam prep classes, tuition assistance and funding to help with continuing education and certification requirements. The training fund has attracted federal and state funding to increase skills in our healthcare workforce, from getting green certification for custodians to enabling more staff to become registered nurses to help alleviate the impending shortage. This innovative partnership has meant staff with more cutting-edge skills plus it means healthcare workers can upgrade to better jobs in their field.

We are looking forward to working together with PeaceHealth. Together we can make the hospital work better both for staff and for patients. Every single improvement to our jobs that we'd like to make, from more access to training to better staffing, points to a better investment in front-line caregiving and better patient care. Having a voice in our union means having a chance to make the changes that take our jobs from being good to being great so that you, our patients, are treated by happy, rested, experienced staff. United in SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, we have a voice for ourselves, our families, our community and our patients.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Kathleen Cruse is a lab assistant at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Laboratories. Rudy Hernandez is a housekeeper at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Hospital. SEIU Healthcare 1199NW is 24,000 nurses, hospital workers and mental health professionals throughout Washington state.

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