Addressing desires for better wages and more affordable healthcare, EvergreenHealth employees represented by SEIU Healthcare 1199NW picketed and held a rally outside of the Kirkland location on March 29.
Marlita Mingaracal, a monitor tech who has been working at the hospital for 17 years, said she earns $24.04 an hour compared to the $27-plus that a colleague receives from another hospital in the Seattle area.
“(EvergreenHealth is) losing good workers,” Mingarcal said, adding that higher wages at other health centers have been drawing employees away. “If they want their workers to stay, we should be paid the same as other hospitals.”
Nearly 1,000 social workers, nursing assistants, case managers, dietary and housekeeping staff who work at the Kirkland hospital and Redmond clinic are represented by the unit that picketed on March 29.
“We are standing united on the things that are important to us,” Michelle Matthews, a health unit coordinator at the Kirkland location, said.
Those who participated hoped to call attention to the need to bring the hospital up to area standards to ensure ongoing quality care.
“We are the caregivers for our community, but we can’t get care ourselves; we can’t afford the care we give at Evergreen,” Amanda Mitchell, who works in Central Sterile Processing at the hospital, said. “It’s shameful that when we don’t have the money, our hospital administration takes us to collections. It’s not that we don’t want to pay, it’s that we can’t afford to — they need to stop punishing us for needing to go to the doctor.”
The caregivers have been negotiating new contracts since 2016. A release from the union states that while the inflation rate in the Seattle area is over two percent, EvergreenHealth management is offering raises of just one percent.
“I hear coworkers unable to pay their out of pocket costs, and I see them holding off care because of the costs. One colleague shared that she pushed back a surgery because her deductible would really set her and her family back,” Ariana Viveros, an in-patient social worker, said.
The union’s release also stated that EvergreenHealth has below-average expenditures on charity care.
“It’s unconscionable that the hospital is receiving taxpayer dollars but providing less than one fourth of the amount of financial aid and charity care as other hospitals,” Roy Martin, an activist with Washington Community Action Network (CAN), said.
In response to the picketing and the information released by SEIU, EvergreenHealth released a statement that reads:
“We respect the union’s right to hold an informational picket – which is simply that – not a ‘strike’ and certainly not an event that is expected to bring out 1,000 employees. As always, our top priority is the care, service and safety of our patients, employees and visitors. We’re disappointed at this approach by the union as we believe that negotiations should take place at the bargaining table not through public forums. We respect the bargaining process and hope that future negotiations will be productive.
“While the picketing presents a minor distraction, it will not interfere with operations or ability to provide exceptional care and service for our patients.
“We’ve been bargaining in good faith with the union for many months. They have made several contract requests that are unreasonable and rejected many generous proposals. The picket and the claims made about wages, health care costs and charity care are inaccurate, designed to bring undue attention to things other than the standard contract negotiation process, and an obvious attempt by the union to add pressure to ongoing negotiations. We look forward to a speedy resolution to support our collective focus and priority on our patients.
“In response to specific allegations made in the SEIU’s press release, we wish to share the following:
“On wage equity: We regularly conduct assessments to ensure that our wages are in line with the market. Our assessments help ensure that employees’ compensation in all categories is determined according to comparable data.
“On benefit costs: We have a very generous benefits package that includes EvergreenHealth’s robust health care benefits package, including full health care insurance coverage and three medical plans from which to choose – including a health savings account (HSA) and our select medical plan, both of which have a $0 premium for employees/100 percent of employee-only coverage. For EvergreenHealth employees who opt-out of the organization’s health care benefits, employees have the opportunity to increase their compensation by 12 to 15 percent.
“On charity care: When we look at percent of charity, uncompensated and bad debt as a percent of gross revenue, EvergreenHealth exceeds all local hospitals (for 2015, the most recent year data is available).
“EvergreenHealth is a not for profit, public hospital. We provide nearly $16 million in community benefit each year, including charity care, community health services, subsidized Medicaid costs and levy program subsidies (2015 data – most recent year available).”