Nine workers bumped from county jobs pending privatization of health center

The Washington County commissioners expect to approve severance packages with both union and salaried employees of the Washington County Health Center in advance of the sale to Premier Healthcare Management LLC.

Washington County Health Center

Finalization of the $29.6 million sale of Washington County Health Center will affect nine county government employees who face layoffs due to a practice in the union contract known as “bumping.”

Unionized workers at the 288-bed health center – soon to become part of Premier Healthcare Management LLC – who have more seniority than another county worker and who possesses the skills and job classification to replace that person had the option last week to exercise a provision of the contract known as bumping. The procedure, which had the potential to create a domino effect as one bumped worker could then bump another, took place between Monday and Thursday last week.

Service Employees International Union Healthcare PA members who work at the health center in Arden, Chartiers Township, could bump employees in other parts of Washington County government who belong to SEIU Local 668.

Departments within county government affected by bumping included housekeeping, aging and one part-time licensed practical nurse’s position at Washington County jail.

Three of the 12 health center employees who took part in the bumping process “bumped into vacancies,” said Kathleen Bali, Washington County director of human resources. A 13th health center employee rescinded the intention to bump another worker.

The layoffs will be taking place Oct. 20, the new date targeted for the health center to change hands.

Exempt from SEIU bumping were employees of elected officials, court-related and court-appointed positions and those who are members of unions other than SEIU.

Healthcare Services Group Inc. of Bensalem, Bucks County, was identified as the firm that held a job fair last week for the dietary, housekeeping and laundry departments at the health center. Those jobs, formerly held by union members, reportedly are being outsourced.

On its website, it is seeking a cook, dietary aide, heavy housekeeper/floor technician, light housekeeping worker and manager in training for environmental services positions in Washington.

A spokeswoman for SEIU Healthcare PA said the union will continue to represent those in nursing-related positions who will remain at the health center under the new owner, Premier.

In another personnel matter related to the sale of the health center, the county commissioners today expect to approve severance packages with union and salaried employees, which include lump sums to be paid after the transfer of ownership.

In April, the union negotiated $2,000 in severance for full-time employees and $750 for part-timers and those who were hired after Jan. 1, 2017.

Among salaried staff, full-time employees will be receiving $3,000, while part-timers and those hired this year will be receiving $1,125.

The county also will compensate its soon-to-be-ex-employees for unused vacation and personal days at the regular rate and unused sick days if they used fewer than six.

“We rewarded the people who stuck with us to the end,” Bali said.

Theresa Pearce, a registered nurse, and Randy Popielarczyk, a licensed practical nurse, wrote in an email to the Observer-Reporter that they left the health center in July after 10 years of service, saying they were being strung along and were getting a raw deal due to the privatization of the facility. They also took Bali to task for her presentation on pension benefits.

Bali said Wednesday she discussed “exactly what the Pension Act says,” held individual meetings with employees and had an actuary on hand at meetings in Arden and the Courthouse Square office building to verify pension information.

The county commissioners have pointed to the health center’s losses since 2012 of $9 million, red ink that could be remedied only by selling the facility to a for-profit company.

“They have known about the sale since they dropped that bomb on the staff just before Thanksgiving last year. That made for a wonderful holiday season for the staff and the families last year,” Pearce and Popielarczyk wrote.