Workers at Providence St. Peter Hospital, Olympia, Wash., went on strike Monday morning to protest increased costs to employee health plans.
The 530 striking workers include housekeepers, dietitian technicians and nearly all employees except nurses and doctors. A strike affecting workers at Providence SoundHomecare, also in Olympia, will start on Wednesday. Both strikes are scheduled to last until Saturday morning.
The strike was triggered by changes to the health plan that went into effect Jan. 1, said officials from Service Employees International Union Local No. 1199NW. The changes raise the cost of deductibles by an average of $3,100, union officials said. That's “catastrophic” for affected workers who earn a median salary of about $31,000 a year, the union added.
Providence officials disagreed with the union's assessment over how much deductibles would increase. Providence officials said they've been up-front with the union that health insurance costs could rise, according to a statement (PDF)
. They said “the net deductible has increased slightly.” It grew from $250 to $450 for individuals and from $750 to $900 for families. System officials stressed the strike won't disrupt patient care.
“The combination of declining healthcare reimbursement and our desire to provide affordable and sustainable health benefits to employees means we must find ways to control our costs,” the statement read. “Providence SoundHomeCare and Hospice is offering a fair package of health benefits, a strong retirement plan and competitive wage adjustments.”
Union officials want a health insurance plan that requires less money from employees. The hospital had time to staff replacement workers, as the union gave Providence officials notice last month of their intention to strike. Labor negotiations have gone on since March 2012.
One union member, Abbey Bruce, a certified nursing assistant at St. Peter for the past year and a half, said the policy forced her to take a second job as a homecare aide. Her husband, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, saw his prescription copay increase from zero to $300 a month under the new plan, Bruce said. She took issue with the notion that employees would be covered by participating in Providence's voluntary health savings plan. She said those alternatives Providence proposed don't provide coverage that's extensive enough.
“I shouldn't be using it for copay, I should be using it in case something happens,” Bruce said.
St. Peter's parent company, Providence Health & Services, Renton, Wash., last year executed an affiliation agreement with Swedish Health Services in Seattle and formed Western HealthConnect to manage services in western Washington. Union officials said they are looking closely at how the situation with St. Peter is resolved, as it could affect labor negotiations with the 600 or so workers at Swedish-affiliated facilities. That contract expires in 2015. Catholic provider Providence consists of 26 hospitals in Alaska, California, Montana, Oregon and Washington state.