The privatization of Washington County Health Center has far-reaching implications for many people: taxpayers who will no longer be footing the bill for a facility that has lost $9 million over the past six years; workers, patients and families at the center, itself; and other members of Service Employees International Union working in various parts of county government who could potentially find themselves out of a job in a domino effect resulting from a contract provision known as “bumping.”
A unionized worker at the health center – soon to become part of Premier Healthcare Management LLC – who has more seniority than another county worker and who possesses the skills and job classification to replace that person can exercise a provision of the contract known as bumping.
The bumping provision of the contract is not new, but the sheer number of employees who could potentially exercise their rights to claim the job of a colleague with less seniority hasn’t been seen before in Washington County government, which is the fourth-largest employer in the county after Washington Hospital, Washington Trotting Association and Mon Valley Hospital, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry.
There are about 260 members of SEIU Healthcare PA at the health center and an equal number of SEIU Local 668 members elsewhere in Washington County government, according to Kathleen Bali, Washington County’s director of human resources.
County officials took action related to possible bumping Wednesday when the prison board convened at the jail in its September session.
The jail staff includes seven licensed practical nurses, four part-timers and three who work full time at an average salary of $46,511, all but one hired in this century.
The Washington County salary book lists nearly four dozen LPN positions at the health center in the same salary range. As many as seven health center LPNs could decide to stick with the county by bumping jail LPNs if their counterparts at the correctional facility have less seniority.
In the event that this occurs, a health center LPN could not simply report to the health center one day and slide seamlessly into the jail rotation the next shift, because he or she would need training in the jail’s security procedures.
To cover this contingency, the prison board, which consists of the county commissioners, controller, sheriff, district attorney and Judge John DiSalle, voted unanimously on Wednesday to create seven temporary licensed practical nursing positions at $20.40 per hour, to be abolished at the conclusion of training – five weeks in the classroom and two weeks of on-the-job training.
“This may not even happen,” said Warden Edward Strawn after the prison board adjourned its meeting. “But I’m getting ready.”
Strawn said his LPN staff and visitors receptionist are part of the SEIU, but corrections officers – as members of Teamsters Union Local 205 – are excluded from being bumped by health center SEIU members. In county government outside the jail, those who work in a Children and Youth Services agency subgroup, those who work for elected officials, court-appointed employees and court-related employees also are exempt, according to Scott Fergus, Washington County director of administration.
With privatization of the health center looming at the beginning of October, Bali said the county has discussed the bumping issue with the union, but she did not yet have a date when it would begin, or an estimate of how long it could last. The issue was explained to county employees at meetings several months ago, and, privately, some of those with little seniority are understandably nervous about their jobs, even though everyone but the person who is, figuratively speaking, lowest on the totem pole might have the option to bump someone else.
“We’re trying to get this done in a matter of days,” Bali said.
In June, the Washington County commissioners announced Premier was their choice to buy the 288-bed health center, which has been bleeding red ink since 2012 despite maintaining a four-star overall rating out of a possible five stars at the federal government’s Medicare.gov website.
Premier’s agreed-upon purchase price of the 40-year-old facility on 19.6 acres at 36 Old Hickory Ridge Road in Arden, Chartiers Township, is $26.9 million. Buyer and seller have targeted Oct. 1 or Oct. 5 as the date the change in ownership will take place.