After a months-long contract bargaining period that saw two strikes in front of the hospital, workers at McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center in Springfield have settled on a contract with the hospital management.
In a Jan. 19 press release announcing the new contract, the union said it addresses the concerns raised during the bargaining period. It provides pay raises, COVID-19 protection and more affordable health insurance for lower paid workers.
“The Springfield and Lane County community is fortunate to have such dedicated caregivers at McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center,” SEIU Local 49 President Meg Niemi said in the Jan. 19 press release. “This past year the members of SEIU 49 at the hospital took a stand to defend quality care and good jobs in the community and made progress that will have a positive impact on the care they are able to deliver. This contract is a win for the community as well as employees.”
Over the three-year contract with McKenzie Willamette Medical Center, which is majority-owned by the Tennessee-based corporation Quorum, the average union-represented worker could see nearly 22 percent increase in wages — for some a raise of about $6.07 an hour. SEIU previously told Eugene Weekly that some hospital workers were earning as little as $13 an hour.
The union represents emergency technicians, pharmacy technicians, certified nursing assistants, physical therapists and others.
“We knew that bringing wages to a competitive level was necessary in order for McKenzie-Willamette to attract and retain highly-skilled staff,” Aaron Green said in a press release. Green is a certified nurse assistant 2 at McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center. “By taking direct action with our strikes we were able to settle a strong contract that will support workers with better wages, health care subsidies and more funds in our training and education fund.”
The contract also provides workers with an increased education and training fund, a COVID-19 appreciation bonus and a guaranteed 401k match.
While hospital workers negotiated with hospital management, the union had two strikes: a two-day strike in October, dubbed “Striketober;” and a five-day strike in early December, called “Strikesgiving.”
The two strikes saw support from many local and state political leaders, including Congressman Peter DeFazio, Yamhill County Commissioner Casey Kulla (who was then running for governor), state Sen. Floyd Prozanski, Lane County Commissioner Laurie Trieger, Springfield City Councilors Leonard Stoehr and Kori Rodley, and Eugene City Councilor Matt Keating.
During the two strikes, workers commented on the rising cost of health care premiums. Management was proposing health care costs that would eat into their wages, they said.
At the first strike, Congressman Peter DeFazio said it was unfair for workers to be employed at a hospital and yet be unable to afford health care — and be forced to rely on the Oregon Health Plan.
The new contract has an increased subsidy program for workers who make less than $45,000 a year that provides health insurance for them and their family.
But the union said in the Jan. 19 release that it has more bargaining to do for those who are on a contract with the Texas-based company HHS.
In 2021, the hospital decided to outsource some of its hospital workers to HHS. The union-represented workers — whose work includes cleaning linens and housekeeping — were laid off Dec. 5, days before the start of the union’s second strike. The company invited the laid-off workers to reapply.
SEIU said in the press release that HHS has committed to bargaining with the union, and the former employees who had reapplied for their former position were hired.
This story is a part of Eugene Weekly’s reporting series on the labor movement in Oregon, funded by the Wayne L. Morse Center for Law and Politics.