Hos­pi­tal work­ers ap­prove con­tract

Vote ends six months of ne­go­ti­a­tions with Tower Health

The Community Connection - - FRONT PAGE - By Donna Rovins [email protected]­tu­ry­media.com @Mer­cBiz on Twit­ter

POTTSTOWN >> Af­ter six months of some­times “tough” ne­go­ti­a­tions — a con­tract agree­ment has been reached and ap­proved for more than 250 health care work­ers at Pottstown Hos­pi­tal — Tower Health.

Mem­bers of the Ser­vice Em­ployee In­ter­na­tional Union (SEIU) Health­care Penn­syl­va­nia voted to ap­prove a new three-year union con­tract Dec. 3 af­ter reach­ing an agree­ment with owner Tower Health last week. Ninety-five per­cent of the

em­ploy­ees who case bal­lots Dec. 3 voted to ap­prove the con­tract.

The union rep­re­sents cer­ti­fied nurs­ing as­sis­tants, trans­porters, unit sec­re­taries, ser­vice work­ers, tech­ni­cians and other health care em­ploy­ees at Pottstown Hos­pi­tal.

“We’re re­lieved it’s fin­ished, it’s a big weight off of our shoul­ders. Ev­ery­one is proud of it and feels good about it,” Kim Shaner, an LPN and SEIU chap­ter pres­i­dent at Pottstown Hos­pi­tal, said Dec. 4. She has worked at the hos­pi­tal for 41 years. “We had some things that were very im­por­tant and that we felt strongly about, and we ac­com­plished them. I feel proud of it.”

The new con­tract in­cludes across-the-board wage in­creases for the du­ra­tion of the con­tract, se­nior­ity pro­tec­tions and caps on health in­sur­ance costs for em­ploy­ees, ac­cord­ing to a press re­lease.

These is­sues were on the ta­ble right up to the end, ac­cord­ing to Shaner.

“On the is­sue of se­nior­ity in lay­offs, we got what we were look­ing for,” Shaner said. In the case of a pos­si­ble lay­off at the hos­pi­tal, the new con­tract out­lines that it would be by the least se­nior em­ployee.

Un­der the terms of the con­tract, em­ploy­ees are guar­an­teed wages raises of up to 4 per­cent each year of the con­tract. Shaner said the union fought for across the board wages in­stead of merit raises.

“That keeps it more fair for em­ploy­ees,” she said. “We elected to push back on across the board and we ac­com­plished it — it’s a big win for us.”

In ad­di­tion to gain­ing im­prove­ments in wages, union mem­bers were able to ne­go­ti­ate an agree­ment that in­cludes bet­ter ac­cess to health­care and a pro­vi­sion to keep em­ployee spouses on the Tower Health plan — a stick­ing point for work­ers con­cerned about health­care choices be­ing lim­ited for some fam­i­lies.

“Ear­lier pro­pos­als from Tower would have forced some em­ployee spouses off of the Tower health plan and onto in­fe­rior plans,” Linda Heater, a unit sec­re­tary at Pottstown Hos­pi­tal, said in the re­lease. “That pro­posal would have been un­fair to some of our co­work­ers’ fam­i­lies and I’m glad we were able to find a so­lu­tion.”

Union work­ers at the hos­pi­tal say im­prove­ments in the new con­tract will be key to re­cruit­ing and re­tain­ing an ex­pe­ri­enced, skilled staff to care for res­i­dents of the Pottstown area, ac­cord­ing to the re­lease.

Con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions be­gan in June for the pre­vi­ous three-year pact that ex­pired Sept. 21. Since then, the two sides met roughly twice a month. Shaner said talks were at times tough, as both sides were “de­ter­mined.” In Oc­to­ber, when there still was no con­tract agree­ment, the union no­ti­fied Tower Health of its in­ten­tion to strike. How­ever, a fed­eral me­di­a­tor was brought in to­ward the end of the process, and there was no strike.

“I feel re­ally good about what we ac­com­plished. We look for­ward to work­ing with Tower Health and hav­ing a good work­ing re­la­tion­ship. We have a lot of good work­ers, and we’re proud of the work we do,” Shaner added.

Res­o­lu­tion of this con­tract agree­ment is the first be­tween the Pottstown Hos­pi­tal SEIU chap­ter and Tower Health. Pottstown Hos­pi­tal and four other hos­pi­tals across the re­gion were pur­chased by the for­mer Read­ing Health Sys­tem, which be­came Tower Health upon com­ple­tion of the ac­qui­si­tion in Oct. 2017.

In Au­gust, mem­bers of Pottstown Hos­pi­tal’s SEIU joined with mem­bers of the union that rep­re­sents the hos­pi­tals nurses — the Penn­syl­va­nia As­so­ci­a­tion of Staff Nurses and As­so­ci­ated Per­son­nel (PASNAP) — at a pub­lic rally ex­press­ing frus­tra­tion with Tower Health la­bor pro­pos­als and pol­icy changes.

In ad­di­tion to Pottstown Hos­pi­tal, Tower Health con­sists of Brandy­wine Hos­pi­tal, Ch­est­nut Hill Hos­pi­tal, Jen­nersville Hos­pi­tal, Phoenixville Hos­pi­tal and Read­ing Hos­pi­tal.

SEIU Health­care Penn­syl­va­nia also rep­re­sents em­ploy­ees at Ch­est­nut Hill and Jen­nersville Hos­pi­tal. Ad­di­tional de­tails were not avail­able.

SEIU Health­care Penn­syl­va­nia rep­re­sents nearly 45,000 nurses, pro­fes­sional and tech­ni­cal em­ploy­ees, di­rect care work­ers and ser­vice em­ploy­ees in hos­pi­tals, skilled nurs­ing fa­cil­i­ties, home- and com­mu­nity-based ser­vices, and state fa­cil­i­ties across Penn­syl­va­nia.

DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

A con­tract agree­ment has been reached and ap­proved for more than 250 health­care work­ers at Pottstown Hos­pi­tal — Tower Health. In this file photo, SEIU mem­bers joined with mem­bers of Pottstown Hos­pi­tal’s nurses union at an Au­gust rally to ex­press their con­cern over new poli­cies and pro­pos­als by Tower Health.

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