Healthcare Union Authorizes Strike for Regional, Moses Taylor workers
Union members authorized a strike, if necessary, for workers at Regional Hospital in Scranton and Moses Taylor Hospital. The union is backing the employees who say low wages and high turnover rate creates an unhappy and unsafe work environment.
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare Pennsylvania voted 98% in favor of a strike for employees at the two Commonwealth Health hospitals in Scranton. Community Health Systems (CHS) is the parent company that owns Commonwealth Health. Susan Wiggins, a medical laboratory technologist at the hospital, says it’s all about the money.
"We had a nice economic proposal,” she said. “We wanted to give the lab techs, and the phlebotomists, environmental service workers, the cafeteria workers, we want to give them all a bump up to $15, because they're not even making $15 an hour. And so they rejected the $15. We wanted 6%, they rejected 6%."
Wiggins says the union asked for 6% raises yearly, and CHS came back offering less than 2% for each year. The health system proposed a $13 minimum wage for its employees. Erin Sillner, a registered nurse in the postpartum unit at Regional Hospital of Scranton, says some positions sit vacant due to the health system’s inability to recruit and retain staff. She explained the stark difference in her department since she started eight years ago.
“We had a charge nurse and a tech on each shift, three lactation consultants, a social worker, and around the clock pharmacy support at Moses [Taylor],” she said. “Today, we have no charge nurses or techs on postpartum. We have only one lactation consultant, one lab tech available at night, and no social worker. That means that a nurse like myself at Regional is forced to do the work of several people.”
Because the pay rates aren’t up to par with competitors, they say patients aren’t getting the care they deserve.
“The only way to turn that around is for CHS to make significant investments in essential frontline staff,” Sillner said. “Failure to do so will condemn us to be short staffed for years to come.”
Union members made it clear that they do not want to strike, but that it may be their only option if they don’t receive a fair contract.
Commonwealth Health released a statement, saying “We are in the midst of good faith negotiations with the Service Employees International Union Pennsylvania toward a mutually acceptable successor agreement. Negotiations are ongoing and we remain committed to the collective bargaining process.”
The union has not determined a date to deem the strike necessary, but said they are hopeful CHS will come back to negotiations as soon as possible.
There will be a candlelight vigil “to save our community hospitals” at 6 p.m. on October 19th, outside Regional Hospital of Scranton.