Kadlec Regional Medical Center’s technical and service employees have voted to unionize.
The workers, including 800-plus nursing assistants, radiology and surgical techs, dietary and housekeeping staff and other employees, voted over two days this week to join SEIU Healthcare 1199NW.
The union has about 30,000 members across Washington, including about 17,000 who are working at Providence facilities.
Kadlec became part of the Providence St. Joseph Health network in 2014, and the move was a factor in the union vote, SEIU officials said in a news release.
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“The (workers) cited the impact of Providence’s takeover of their facility and the need for a voice in staffing, wages and benefits as driving the decision to form a union,” the release said.
In a statement, Kadlec officials said, “We respect the right of our caregivers to be represented by a union. We are proud of the culture we have built with our employees and are united with them in our mission of providing safe, compassionate care to the patients we serve.”
Voting happened Wednesday and Thursday, with 422 workers in favor of joining the union and 297 against. Some of the 800-plus technical and service employees didn’t cast ballots.
Workers who were against joining the union might not have to become union members, although they will be part of the bargaining unit and covered by the contract that’s reached. Union membership could be also be made a contract requirement.
The (workers) cited the impact of Providence’s takeover of their facility and the need for a voice in staffing, wages and benefits as driving the decision to form a union.
SEIU Healthcare union
Suzanne Morrell, a CT technologist, who voted in favor of joining the union, said she and her co-workers are “excited to have a voice.”
The process has “brought people together,” she said, adding that, “we’re looking for consistency in the workplace,” along with fair wages and benefits.
“I’m so proud of all my co-workers for taking a stand,” Morrell said.
Another worker, Rachel Luna, an OB tech, also said joining the union is a good move.
“I have such a rewarding job, get to witness new life come in to this world and have the opportunity to take care of the mothers and newborns of this community,” she said in the news release.
“The work we do at our community hospital isn’t easy and we want to be treated with respect. I stood up with my co-workers and team to form a union at Kadlec because I’m ready to move forward. We’ve seen changes in recent years that didn’t work for staff and patients and now we will have all come together for positive change.”
Not all Kadlec workers feel the same way.
“For a good portion of us — (in some cases) whole departments — this is not what we want,” said Jennifer Weltz, a respiratory therapist who voted against joining the union. “We’re happy with our employment, our benefits, our working environment, the rights we have. We want to be able to maintain that and not be lumped in with an agenda that’s not ours. I feel passionately that everyone should have a choice either way.”
Edna Felix, a respiratory therapist and asthma educator, agreed, saying many different disciplines — clinical and non-clinical — are being lumped together into the bargaining unit. Workers from the different disciplines have vastly different duties, different levels of training and different workplace experiences and issues, she said.
Union membership also means paying dues, affecting the paycheck, she noted.
Felix said she and many co-workers feel their managers and administration listen to them and do their best to make an equal and fair workplace. “While we’re not necessarily opposed to unions, we’re asking to not be forced into one,” she said.
The next step is for workers to fill out a survey with their bargaining priorities. Then a bargaining team will be formed to negotiate a contract.
The union vote didn’t include Kadlec nurses or physicians. Nurses at the Richland hospital are represented by the Washington State Nurses Association.