Community & Editorial
A fight for union workers in Bremerton is a fight for unions across the country
Go to any town or city across the country, and you’ll find that most people are the same. They work hard and play by the rules. They hope for a better life. And when they feel others take advantage of them, they stand up for themselves. Last fall 30,000 grocery store workers across Puget Sound proved that by standing together with community members and customers to ask for a better contract, employees and their allies can force employers to provide fair treatment. This is how we to bring back the American dream for working people here in Washington and around the United States.
I am one of a thousand professional, technical and service workers at Harrison Medical Center in Kitsap County, a nonprofit community hospital that serves as the region’s acute care center. Workers at the medical center are in a struggle over contract negotiations. Will we be paid fairly? Will we be able to keep our health plan for ourselves and families? Will we maintain our rights on the job? Unfortunately, Harrison has taken a combative and aggressive approach to our contract negotiations over the past year.
For three decades, workers at Harrison have been unionized, members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) 21, and we have been able to secure a fair contract short of a big dispute. But since last year the medical center owners have insisted that we give up some of our rights — including our right to stick together in case of a dispute — and at the same time agree to terms that would make it easier for our employer to take away our health care in 2015. Our current contract would protect our health care plan through February 2017.
For the first time ever we have had to file several unfair labor act charges against our employer. It appears that our past relationship is gone, and we believe this is tied to the affiliation Harrison made with the Tacoma-based Franciscan Health System last summer. It seems that the large, out-of-town Franciscan Health System is setting a different tone, and as a result negotiations have taken a turn for the worse. Our hope is that Franciscan Health System will change course.
UFCW 21 and my co-workers are trying to make things better every day for the patients we serve. There are some things that can make our work easier: wages that at least keep up with the cost of living and allow us to get ahead a little in life; a health plan that allows us to care for ourselves and our families; rights on the job that value and respect us; and the ability to stick together and push back when our employer tries to cut costs and increase profits on the backs of workers.
While most workers in the country don’t have a union, more and more people feel that they should. A Gallup poll released before Labor Day last year found that 54 percent of those surveyed approved of unions, a 6 percent increase over 2009. Many corporations, on the other hand, would like you to believe that the need for unions has passed. These same corporations have continued to do well in our sluggish economy as regular working people have seen wages stagnate, home values decline and health plans cut. With a union, my co-workers and I can take action together like we did over the last couple months during an informational picket and other actions in Kitsap County.
When we connect with the community as a whole and with people across the region, we can take back the American dream. And when we reclaim that American dream for more and more workers, we will all be better off. As consumers — whether of health care services or groceries — we are the ones who drive the economy. When working people have the money and security to go out to dinner, feel confident enough to buy a new car or go on a family vacation it helps our economy work and creates jobs.
When Harrison employees and community members stand together, it can help health care workers achieve a fair contract. With a better contract, not only will we have higher wages and secure health care plans, we will be able to better care for the patients we serve every day.
CommentsAs a member of UFCW21 I will not bow down to their tactics. I hope our community will support us in not letting the Franciscans turn Harrison into just another notch in their belt. Brenda McBride, HUC Harrison no longer belongs to the community it serves, we were led down a rosey path on this affiliation. Stand united for the workers who actually live in Kitsap County.
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