300 unionized Washington hospital workers vote to allow strike notice | Local News
Nearly 300 unionized workers at the Washington Health System’s Washington Hospital have voted to allow their bargaining committee to issue a strike notice to hospital administrators if the two sides fail to agree on a new contract before it expires on Monday.
The vote on Wednesday by members of the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Pa. unit does not mean a strike is imminent with bargaining sessions scheduled for today and Monday, but it does give the union’s bargaining committee the power to inform hospital officials that a strike could eventually be called.
The SEIU Healthcare union represents nearly 300 Washington hospital support workers who serve as basic service workers, including licensed practical nurses and certified practical nurses, as well as those who work in environmental or dietary services. The union does not represent registered nurses, who are not included in the strike notice authorization.
“With the overwhelming passage of Wednesday’s vote to authorize a strike, these essential workers have sent a clear message to the hospital administration that they are ready to do whatever it takes to win a fair contract,” said Matthew Yarnell, who is president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania.
In a press release, the union said workers were demanding better wages and working conditions, in addition to more recruitment tools to find and retain workers in times of staff shortages. Union members said the COVID-19 pandemic has put them at risk of getting sick, while burnout has also been a factor during tough times in the medical field. The union said the two sides had been negotiating since December.
“We ask management to listen to our demands and work with us to reach a fair contract. Fighting for the respect we deserve as caregivers has been frustrating, but we will continue to stand up for ourselves and our patients,” said Melissa Duran, an EKG technician at the hospital. “The pandemic hurt us a lot, but we showed up for our community and our hospital when they needed us most. We risked our lives to care for our patients, and it’s time for leadership in Washington to step up for us and invest in frontline workers.
WHS spokeswoman Stephanie Wagoner said the administration has yet to receive strike notice and hopes a solution will be found soon.
“We are working hard to negotiate an agreement that both parties can agree to in order to continue providing excellent care to our patients and our community, at a time when they need WHS most,” Wagoner said.
The union also said it also hoped for an “amicable settlement” as the two sides continue to negotiate. No strike date has been set and there is more time to negotiate before the union’s contract expires at midnight Monday.
“While we hope management won’t force us to strike, we will do everything in our power to ensure a fair contract for all workers in our union,” said dietitian aide Debbie Torboli.