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Hospital Workers' Contract Helps Families Afford Medical Bills

A new contract at medical centers in central Oregon includes the biggest pay increase for workers in two decades. (SEIU Local 49)
A new contract at medical centers in central Oregon includes the biggest pay increase for workers in two decades. (SEIU Local 49)
July 30, 2019

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. — Hospital workers in central Oregon have approved a new contract that will boost their pay and also help low- and middle-income workers afford their medical bills.

About 1,400 health-care workers at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene and Springfield will receive an average wage increase of 17% over the next three years - the biggest in more than two decades. The contracts also put nonprofit hospitals in line with a new law passed in the state Legislature this year.

Service Employees International Union Local 49 president Meg Niemi said families at 400% or below the federal poverty level will receive help on their out-of-pocket medical costs.

"That captures a lot of working-class families - those levels - making sure that people are able to get the care they need from these hospitals that are not paying taxes in our state in return for being nonprofits,” Niemi said.

She said a lot of workers have been struggling to pay their medical bills. Nonprofit hospital charity care for low- and middle-income patients has dropped off 50% since 2010, according to Oregon Health Authority data. Niemi said the new contract also adds another certified nursing assistant to the staffing committee, making it the first in the state with two CNAs.

Lorie Quinn is an environmental services worker at Sacred Heart in Springfield and was a member of the bargaining team. Her father was injured last week and is getting care at Sacred Heart.

"It makes me proud to see the CNAs that are there taking care of him and how much they care about their jobs and care about their patients,” Quinn said. “And it gives me a good sense of pride to know that that's who I was fighting for so that they can do this job."

Niemi said she hopes this win for Sacred Heart will inspire workers at McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center, who also are in contract negotiations. She said the workers at the for-profit McKenzie-Willamette center are just up the road from Sacred Heart in Springfield and making less money.

"They are really bringing forward to management that in order to recruit and retain the best qualified staff, we need to see some significant raises in pay,” Niemi said. “And then we also really want to have our members have a stronger voice in patient care and in staffing in the hospital.”

Disclosure: SEIU Local 49 contributes to our fund for reporting on Livable Wages/Working Families, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR