Washington Hospital workers win new contract

February 10, 2016
Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter Exterior of The Washington Hospital, Washington Health System located in Washington.

Service employees have a new contract with Washington Hospital.

Members of the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Pennsylvania overwhelmingly approved the pact, with 90 percent voting to ratify the contract Wednesday.

The employees voted throughout the day, with the final tallies recorded shortly before 9 p.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Meadow Lands.

Bargaining committees for the union and Washington Health System, parent of the hospital, had reached a tentative agreement about 9:30 p.m. Monday after more than eight hours of talks at a venue in the Washington area. The contract is for three years.

The agreement will move all newly hired and current workers in the lowest-paid departments to $15 an hour by the end of three years.

Some employees already have reached that level.

Workers will receive fair-wage increases each year of the agreement. Additionally, the contract secures the retirement program and maintains affordable health care for all three years.

SEIU members, concerned about health care costs, were seeking a minimum wage of $15 per hour across the board.

“We are glad we were able to reach a new contract and avoid a strike,” said Sally Berdine, a housekeeping utility worker and acting president of the hospital’s SEIU chapter. “We are here for our community and patients, and part of that is making sure we as the front lines of the hospital have quality jobs to give quality care.”

SEIU represents about 400 workers in the maintenance, housekeeping and dietary units, plus unit secretaries. They comprise roughly one-fourth of the system’s 1,723 employees.

Negotiations began in late December and ended with the 10th session Monday. Members voted Feb. 2 to allow the union to issue a 10-day strike notice, and planned a two-day strike Feb. 16 and 17 if a deal wasn’t reached.

The contract was approved under similar circumstances to what occurred three years earlier. SEIU members in January 2013 voted to authorize a strike, but ended up ratifying a contract Feb. 4.

“Getting everyone to $15 in their third year is a great accomplishment,” said Lance Pannell, project worker. “We will continue to advocate at Washington Hospital and for all hospital workers in Southwestern Pennsylvania to make sure hospital jobs are good-paying jobs where we can afford health care for ourselves and our families.”

Karen Mansfield is an award-winning journalist and mom of five who has been a staff writer for the Observer-Reporter since 1988. She enjoys reading, the Pittsburgh Steelers, a good glass of wine and nice people.

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Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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