By Steve Guntli
After months of contentious union negotiations that led to a strike in late May, PeaceHealth medical group has reached a contract agreement with its union employees.
PeaceHealth, which oversees St. Joseph Hospital in Bellingham, agreed to raise employee wages 6 percent by fall 2016. The contact is the first between PeaceHealth and SEIU Healthcare 1199NW.
PeaceHealth agreed to a 3 percent wage increase at the time of the contract signing, plus another 3 percent by September 2016. Workers will also receive a signing bonus of $1,000 for full-time employees, $500 for part-time and $200 for per diem. Workers will also get premium increases for evening, weekend and training shifts, and a wage scale will be put in place to compensate workers based on years of service.
Workers joined the union, which represents approximately 900 PeaceHealth employees, in 2013. Union leaders and PeaceHealth management have been trying to agree on a contract for more than 18 months.
On May 13, PeaceHealth workers staged a one-day walkout, citing understaffing and insufficient compensation and benefits. Workers were kept away from their jobs for several days, as the hospital had entered into mandatory three-day contracts with temporary workers to cover the strike.
Kari Revelstoke, a lab assistant with PeaceHealth and one of the union’s designated spokespeople, said she was happy about the contract.
“We’re all very excited and very happy,” she said. “Management really came forward with the wage increases we wanted. It’s a great start and a great opportunity to build a framework for the future.”
Revelstoke said the management wasn’t willing to budge on the union’s requests for better benefits.
“That was a little disappointing,” she said. “But it’s high on our priority list for our next contract negotiation, and in the meantime management has offered to sit down with employees to hear suggestions and try to get some new programs up and running. It’s a start.”
The contract agreement expires on August 31, 2017.