Workers Reach Agreement at Whidden Memorial Hospital

As part of an ongoing effort by the national Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to raise the wages of workers from fast food clerks to hotel housekeepers, healthcare workers represented by a local branch of the SEIU have ratified a contract with the Whidden Hospital to raise their base wages to $15 – the rallying cry across the country for SEIU’s movement.

Local caregivers who are members of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East announced publicly last week they have overwhelmingly ratified a new contract agreement with Whidden. The hospital is part of the Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) network.

The agreement, which covers more than 230 caregivers at the hospital, includes a number of significant provisions that will benefit healthcare workers and enhance patient care.

CHA said it has long-standing relationships with the 14 unions that represent about 66 percent of its entire workforce. They said negotiations in the current case are ongoing and they are committed to fairness.

“We cannot comment on specific contract details while we have negotiations pending with some of our other unions,” read a CHA statement. “In our ongoing dialogue with labor unions, we are constantly looking for ways to fairly compensate our employees while ensuring that we are appropriately allocating resources to allow us to continue our critical role as a safety net hospital system. We make every effort to carefully manage costs, and our labor wages are influenced by the competitive Boston market, cost of living, and quality of staff.”

Inspired by the national Fight for $15 movement prodded by SEIU, the new contract achieves important progress for Whidden’s low-wage healthcare workers. For the first time, this agreement will lift all lower-wage employees at the hospital (present and future) to a minimum start rate of $15/hour effective July 1, 2015. In addition, the new contract provides wage increases to Whidden workers at all experience and pay-grade levels that are members of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the state’s largest healthcare union.

“We are proud to announce this contract that provides a living wage to workers who deliver such tremendous care and services to the local community,” said Veronica Turner, executive vice president of 1199SEIU. “Our healthcare employees work incredibly hard, and we’re pleased that hospital leaders recognize that these workers should not have to struggle to support their families or face tough decisions about what bills to pay or how to make rent.”

Workers who are covered under the Whidden contract said it was encouraging to see the hospital reach out to workers.

“This contract is a major step forward for many of my colleagues who have struggled financially, even as they work full-time providing an important service to our community,” said Judy Saint Louis, a healthcare worker at Whidden who will see her pay increased to $15 in 2015. “The Fight for $15 has inspired many of us. It’s very gratifying to see the hospital that we love make the effort to provide a living wage.”

1199SEIU members support the national Fight for $15 movement and have pushed for higher wages.

“When healthcare workers are valued and have better wages to support their families, it helps them provide excellent services and care to those who need it most,” said Turner. “This contract is a win for employees, patients, and our communities.”

Just as important as the $15, the new contract provides for the continuation of a Labor-Management Quality Committee made up of healthcare workers and Whidden Hospital officials. This Committee is charged with promoting quality care and creating new forums to discuss any issues or recommendations that may arise.

“Joint labor-management initiatives like the Labor/Management Quality Committee are critical to ensuring we are providing top quality care to patients,” added Turner. “Whidden Memorial is the only hospital in the five-city region of Everett, Chelsea, Winthrop, Revere and Malden. This innovative partnership will help us in better fulfill our mission of providing affordable, high quality care to the tens of thousands of children, individuals, families and seniors in this region who rely on Whidden each year.”

In addition, the new contract provides wage increases to other employees. For the first time, interpreters and other workers will also be included in the contract.

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