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Commentary — Harrison seeks contract with workforce that ensures no disruptions to patient care

By Marie LaMarche

Harrison Medical Center is here to make a positive difference in people’s lives through exceptional healthcare. Every decision we make is with the goal of providing safe, quality around-the-clock care for our community for generations to come. It’s the same philosophy that guided us to our affiliation with Franciscan Health System. And it has been the guiding principle with which we approached negotiations with UFCW Local 21 for a new contract covering our ProTech employees, which includes nursing assistants, pharmacists, technicians, and others.

UFCW represents three bargaining units at Harrison totaling nearly 1,600 members—about 60 percent of Harrison’s workforce. If all units stopped working at the same time, hospital operations would be crippled.

It is with this goal in mind that Harrison proposed a labor peace agreement, a major point of contention in our negotiations. The language Harrison proposed would prevent the members from refusing to cross a picket line in sympathy with other bargaining units, including the other two units represented by Local 21. We respect the right of a bargaining unit to strike when a contract expires and if negotiations come to an impasse. However, we need to ensure that other employees working under separate labor contracts will continue to do so. We do not want those employees to be at risk of being penalized with union fines for coming to work. Most importantly, we want the hospital to remain open.

As the only hospital in Kitsap County, and the region’s only level III emergency trauma center, we cannot compromise the safety of our patients and the security of our community.

Labor peace agreements are standard in healthcare organizations for this very reason. Similar language is in place in virtually all other Local 21-represented contracts in healthcare, as well as in Harrison’s contract with registered nurses, who are represented by Local 21.

We know that providing a quality work environment and a competitive wage is linked to a quality workforce. That is why we agreed to wage increases between 2 and 2.5 percent in addition to annual step increases, as well as a ratification bonus that would approximate the pay increases employees would have earned had the contract been signed before it expired. We have asked UFCW to allow its members to vote on our most recent proposal.

At its best, the relationship between union and employer is a partnership in which each side strives to understand the other and develop solutions together. We hope that UFCW shares our goals of ensuring our employees are compensated fairly, that our community is safe, and that we can care for our patients for years to come.

• Marie LaMarche is Executive Director, Human Resources for Harrison Medical Center.

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