Union rally in Pasco calls for 'respect'

Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 27, 2014 

Tri-Cities Community Health Center workers protest

Cindy Schu, union organizer for the Office and Professionals Employee Union Local #8 get a group of workers pumped up Thursday outside Tri-Cities Community Health Center in Pasco. The group gathered to protest the attempted attempt to eliminate collective bargaining by Tri-Cities Community Health Center according to union officials.

PAUL T. ERICKSON — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

About 50 people rallied Thursday at Tri-Cities Community Health in Pasco, urging the agency's administrators to show "respect" and "fairness" in labor negotiations.

Union leaders say the agency's management is proposing another financial hit for union workers, as well as language that would erode basic union contract standards.

"We are trying very hard to reach an agreement," said Cindy Schu with Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 8, which represents workers around the state.

"But it's become very clear ... that they are intending to drag this out as long as possible and hope workers give up," she said.

Al Cordova, CEO of Tri-Cities Community Health, said some of the union's demands are unreasonable. Coming to a settlement will take give and take on both sides, he said.

The next bargaining session is in March.

Local 8 represents more than 100 of the agency's workers, from medical and dental assistants to mental health therapists, medical records clerks and receptionists. The workers' contract, agreed to in 2011 after nearly two years of negotiation, expired last year.

In that pact, workers agreed to a 3 percent wage cut and other financial reductions to help the agency through a shortfall, union leaders said.

Now, management is not willing to reinstate the 3 percent cut and proposes additional cuts, as well as increasing employees' yearly share of medical and dental premiums, according to the union.

The management proposal also threatens some important basic contract tenets, including strong seniority language, union officials said.

At the evening rally, a mix of workers, union officials and community leaders called out chants and held signs with messages, such as "Stop the war on workers." Some drivers honked as they passed by, drawing cheers.

At one point, a contingent of community leaders who came to support the workers made their way to the agency's board meeting. The sessions are closed, but the group presented the chairman with a letter and signatures from about 300 people.

Before the rally, Carolyn Banks, a medical assistant, said workers "feel we've done our part, and now we're expecting administration to do their part."

Cordova, the CEO, told the Herald his organization looks to compensate workers fairly. But it's a nonprofit that serves many low-income clients and it doesn't have deep pockets, he said.

Under the union's proposal, union employees' pay would rise 19 percent over the contract's three years, Cordova said. Some union officials countered that they don't know where that figure comes from.

The organization also can't afford to continue picking up as high a share of the health premiums, Cordova said, adding that he considers its offer of an 80-20 split in favor of employees to be reasonable.

"We have acted and will continue to act in good faith to reach an agreement," Cordova said.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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