A Kennewick General Hospital labor union representing more than 200 employees wants its new contract to include those based at the Southridge hospital set to open in 2014, and not only those who stay at the Auburn Street site.
They're circulating a petition to build community support. The petition, at www.onekennewick.com, says the hospital "wants to create two different standards for workers and the care we provide as it opens the new Southridge campus." And that's not good for patients or workers, it says.
"I would like to be treated fairly and have one standard across the board," said Magan Pell, a respiratory therapist and part of the union's bargaining team. "I'm afraid we won't be able to serve our patients as best we can. I fear we'll lose people who are good employees, good workers and know their stuff."
Pell added that, "We want to be able to have competitive wages so we can maintain our staff and have continuity of care. We can't compete with other hospitals in the area if we can't supply a competitive wage. It's going to affect recruitment."
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Pell said the hospital hasn't been willing to change the language to include Southridge and that's felt like a slap in the face.
Russ Keefer, KGH's chief human resource officer, said the original contract -- which expired earlier this year but has been extended during negotiations -- recognizes the union as the sole and exclusive representative of the employee group and recognizes the group's place of employment as the Auburn Street campus.
"A lot of hard work and hours and time and partnership" on the part of both the hospital and union officials went into negotiating and finalizing the contract in 2008-09, he said.
He added that the Southridge campus was on the planning horizon during that time period.
Keefer said constructing a new building doesn't change the terms of the contract, but it does "allow for the discussion around why you would or why you would not, and that's what we're doing now."
He noted that workers with similar jobs at other KGH sites aren't covered by the contract and said that hasn't hurt patient care or employee recruitment at those sites.
A state mediator has been brought in to help with negotiations, which started in February.
The union, Kennewick General Hospital Workers United, represents more than 200 hospital employee members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW and OPEIU Local 8. They hold positions from pharmacy technician to housekeeping staff.
Stacy Hursh, a pharmacy technician and union bargaining team member, said including the Southridge hospital in the contract is important for job security and to protect wages and seniority.
She and Pell said the petition has gotten strong support in the community.
They both said they're hopeful the issue can be worked out.
Keefer said he's confident it will be. He stressed that when it comes to the negotiations, the hospital's top priority is ensuring quality patient care.
"At KGH, patients are the center of all we do," he said.
-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; email@example.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald