Catholic Healthcare West has signed a new contract with the San Francisco local of the Service Employees International Union that offers the promise of "partnership" in place of "the traditional adversarial relationship," both sides say.
The contract covers 700 SEIU workers at three hospitals: St. Mary's Medical Center and St. Francis Memorial Hospital, both in San Francisco, and Seton Medical Center in Daly City, Calif. The SEIU is touting the four-year contract as a model that could be extended to cover other CHW hospitals.
The settlement resolves a contentious and visible dispute that had dragged on for months. Workers vote to ratify the contract in early December. It's retroactive to May 1, 1996.
SEIU Local 250 represents 40,000 workers and is the second-largest organization of healthcare workers in the United States. With 35 hospitals, CHW is now the largest chain in California.
"Both the union and Catholic Healthcare West feel this is a positive agreement," said Debbie Cantu, the hospital system's director of corporate communications. "Our approach in the future is in a partnership with our union employees. We certainly don't want to be adversaries. We think that's silly in this environment."
Sal Rosselli, president of Local 250, said the union and CHW "share many common goals, including a strong commitment to maintaining the highest standards of quality patient care. With this contract the voice of healthcare workers can be heard and respected."
The contract prohibits subcontracting of hospital functions on site, although subcontractors can be hired off-premises. If CHW chooses to subcontract, it cannot do so to reduce labor rates or to avoid contract terms.
If it wants to subcontract, the system must give 90 days' notice and offer the union a chance to propose an alternative. If that alternative can achieve 75% of the desired cost savings and improve patient care, then CHW must implement the union's proposal instead of subcontracting.
At St. Francis and St. Mary's hospitals, union laundry workers whose jobs were given to a subcontractor at lower wages will get their old jobs back without reduction in wages and benefits.
In a six-page press release, the union heralded a "new environment for organizing non-union workers." Both sides have agreed to a two-paragraph statement of philosophy that codifies the rights of workers to organize and assures that "their voice will be consistently and effectively heard." The statement also says CHW will not delay organizing elections or implementing their results.
Further, both sides pledge to desist from personal attacks on officers, executives, employees or sponsors of either organization. CHW will refrain from using scare tactics to dissuade workers from organizing.
Almost as an afterthought, the press release mentions there is a 10% wage increase over four years, plus $1,000 a year in training support for various nursing functions.
And a patient-care committee will have worker representation.
Dave Snapp, an SEIU strategist in Washington, said: "Our union is committed to try to work with healthcare providers who demonstrate by their actions that they have some similar priorities to ours, relating to quality of care and fair treatment of employees.
"We aim to work in alliance with healthcare providers who do that; we will continue to wage battles with employers who don't."
Cantu said the new contract is consistent with CHW's mission and core beliefs. "Our organization, and particularly our Catholic heritage, have always been supportive of labor unions and employees' rights to organize. (The contract) fits with that history and the mission of the sisters." CHW has seven sponsoring religious congregations.
The difficult and protracted negotiations overcame several one-day work stoppages, accompanied by aggressive advertisements placed by the union in local newspapers.
The result is "very different from what we had at the beginning of this negotiation," Cantu said. "When people were able to sit back and take a deep breath, and learn to trust one another at the table, this kind of solution can evolve."