PeaceHealth union ratifies first contract

Group votes, approves minimum 7 percent wage increase over two years

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter

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A 900-member group of recently unionized service and laboratory workers at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center voted Thursday to ratify their first contract.

The group voted in December to affiliate with the American Federation of Teachers, which now represents about 2,500 hospital workers. After nine months of bargaining, the group voted 90 percent to 10 percent to ratify its first contract, according to an AFT news release.

The service unit — which includes cooks, technicians, lab assistants, medical assistants, certified nursing assistants, unit secretaries and home health aides, among other positions — voted for a minimum 7 percent wage increase over the next two years, with an average increase of more than 9.5 percent. The contract also puts an end to the PeaceHealth practice of sending its employees to collection agencies if they cannot pay medical bills, according to the news release.

“I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish with our first union contract,” certified nursing assistant Tyler Carr said in the news release. “By bargaining for things like a living wage and improved job security, I feel like we have really improved the lives of everyone who works here at PHSW. This will have a positive impact on not only me and my colleagues, but also everyone who comes into our hospital to receive care.”

PeaceHealth officials said they were pleased to ratify the contract, which was achieved through good faith bargaining.

“We respect and value each and every one of our caregivers at PeaceHealth. We especially appreciate that, throughout this process, our caregivers’ focus remained on our deeply held commitment to providing quality and compassionate care to the people in our Southwest Washington communities,” said Debra Miller, PeaceHealth system vice president of labor and caregiver relations, in a statement. “As we move forward together, our focus remains on working with each and every one of our caregivers to ensure our PeaceHealth facilities in Vancouver are not only the best places to get care, but the best places to give care.”

Union officials called the agreement the third successful AFT contract campaign at PeaceHealth Southwest.

In June 2016, licensed technical professionals at the hospital voted to form the 300-member PeaceHealth Southwest Caregivers United union under the umbrella of the AFT and its Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals affiliate. PeaceHealth Southwest nurses are members of the Washington State Nurses Association, which is also under the AFT umbrella.