Mercy Health workers picket for better wages

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Courtesy SEIU Healthcare Michigan

Union workers of Trinity Health are picketing for fair wages and better working conditions.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) said it spent nearly three years negotiating with Trinity Health for an improved working environment. A vote to picket was approved Monday, Feb. 7, following a recent ramp-up in frustration across all hospital units.

SEIU includes 1,800 hospital workers employed by Mercy Health Muskegon, part of the Trinity Health system.

“As a health care worker and an active member of this community, we need a contract with competitive wages, safe staffing and better working conditions,” said Darla Gallegos, lab technician, Mercy Health Muskegon. “Everything we do is for the betterment of our patients and the health of our community. We are proud to stand together as frontline workers.”

Protesting staff members from Mercy Health Muskegon include nurses, lab techs, food service workers, respiratory therapists, environmental service workers and personal care assistants. Members said what happens next will depend on how negotiations progress this week as SEIU works to reach an agreement.

“We were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from members who braved the global pandemic and the freezing temperatures to vote in high numbers. This near-unanimous vote is extremely rare, and it demonstrates that Mercy workers are united and ready to take action,” said Sherrie Samp, medical technologist II for Mercy Health. “What happens next depends on whether Trinity agrees to a fair contract that will address the staffing crisis at Mercy and allow us to take care of our patients and our community.”

The proceedings began with nearly 100 Mercy Health Muskegon workers who teamed up with community supporters and elected officials for a fair contract, as workers grappled with COVID-19 and its impacts for the past two years.

“Hospital workers have been here for us. It is time for us to be there for them,” said Michigan State Representative Tony Sabo. “It’s a shame that health care workers in our community haven’t seen annual raises for years. I would like to see Trinity make an investment in Muskegon worthy of the sacrifices that our hospital workers have made. We need to support them in these challenging times.”

The group in January protested in scrubs and held signs reading “Invest in Muskegon’s Healthcare Heroes” and “Fair Contract Now” and gave an initial deadline of Jan. 31 to reach a fair agreement with the organization. The group said if an agreement was not reached by that date, it was prepared to authorize its bargaining committee to do what was needed to win a fair contract.

“For two years, we’ve risked our health and safety, picked up extra shifts and worked long hours to ensure safe patient care, even if it means we’re exhausted. After everything we’ve been through, Trinity workers know our worth, and we’re prepared to take a stand for ourselves and our patients if we need to. We refuse to settle for a contract that leaves out the protections, incentives and rights we need and deserve,” said Tinitco Moore, health unit coordinator, Mercy Health.

During contract negotiations, health care workers united around key contract proposals, including fair compensation so health care workers can be recruited and retained to tackle the staffing crisis at the hospital.

While nationally, hospital workers received an average of 9% annual raises in 2021, some Trinity Health workers said they haven’t seen an annual wage increase since 2017.

Mercy Health Muskegon said its leadership has been exchanging bargaining proposals for a new contract with SEIU employees since February 2021. The hospital also said it offered retention bonuses and sign-on bonuses, which SEIU recently voted down, and it currently is providing critical staffing pay to many classifications of workers.

“Mercy Health Muskegon very much values our colleagues represented by SEIU, and we are looking forward to coming to a mutual agreement as soon as possible,” the hospital said. “We are encouraged to see the negotiating teams increase the pace with multiple meetings last week. We have seven additional bargaining dates scheduled, and we remain hopeful more progress will be made this week and next.

“Completing these contracts and taking care of our colleagues is a priority. Mercy Health Muskegon has been able to reach a fair and mutual agreement with the union in the past and see no reason we will not reach agreements this time.”

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