Hospital workers approve contract
Vote ends six months of negotiations with Tower Health
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.
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.