Healthcare workers at Yakima Memorial rally against pay inequality | Local

On Friday, Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital staff and their supporters gathered outside the hospital on Tieton Drive to protest what they said was unfair pay.

Several Memorial employees belonging to the SEIU Healthcare 1199NW union said recent wage increases and retention bonuses weren’t evenly distributed, with some positions getting significantly more.

In February, Memorial announced $14.8 million in retention bonuses for staff, including $8 million from the hospital’s general budget and $6.8 million from federal aid, relief and economic security against coronaviruses. Registered nurses, respiratory therapists, certified practical nurses and phlebotomists were to receive large retention bonuses, according to a news release from Memorial.

All other staff would receive prorated retention bonuses of up to $1,000, according to the announcement.

Memorial also announced that base pay rates would increase by $5 per hour for registered nurses and $3 per hour for respiratory therapists permanently.

But some staff considered the awarding of pay rises and bonuses to be unfair, particularly to care and maintenance staff.

“We’re upset because it wasn’t done fairly,” said Trish Bowman, a registered nurse at Memorial with 38 years of experience there.

As a registered nurse, Bowman said she was grateful for the pay increase, but was dismayed that caregivers, such as orderlies, did not receive similar benefits.

“We work as a team, and it’s such a shame that we got a raise, and they didn’t,” she said.

Fellow RN Yudith Webber, who has worked for Memorial for 19 years, said it has created divisions among staff members. She said while nurses liked the pay rise, it should have been implemented fairly among staff.

Retention concerns

Memorial handed out its retention bonuses amid pandemic stress and staff shortages. The demand has been high for nurses nationwide.

“We have also made the decision to offer retention bonuses of up to $13,000 to our bedside nurses and other key caregivers to encourage them to stay with us instead of taking new jobs elsewhere that come with high signing bonuses. Our decision to offer retention bonuses is working, as we have seen positive changes in staffing and significant improvements in our ability to care for patients in our community over the past several weeks,” a statement from Memorial Friday.

But some staff said it wasn’t enough, especially since not everyone received the same amounts.

Dulce Barajas, a certified practical nurse who has worked at Memorial for almost five years, said she has seen many of her colleagues leave for better paying jobs. Workers who are friendly and communicate well with patients are among those leaving when they are exactly the people the hospital needs, she said.

Barajas said the pandemic had had a huge impact on his mental health. After work, she just wanted to lie down and sleep instead of socializing with her partner and children. She felt overworked, exhausted, and the uneven pay raises weren’t helping.

Laura Cruz, a certified practical nurse and nursing student, said she came to the rally to let Memorial know what they could do to improve retention, including paying fair wages to all staff at the hospital.

“We are not here to fight Memorial. We want to stay…and that’s why we do things like this,” she said.

Union concerns

Raul Lopez, lead organizer for SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, a union that represents more than 1,000 nurses, nursing assistants and service workers at Memorial, said the hospital administration did not consult with the union before announcing bonuses and salary increases.

He said the union was happy with the pay increases for nurses, but was concerned about how the hospital had gone about it.

“The only thing is we have a contract that is still fully intact, and they (the hospital administration) didn’t feel it was necessary to negotiate,” he said. “So that was the other problem. Making changes unilaterally is not acceptable.

He said hospital management should have worked with the union before salary changes and bonuses.

Retention bonuses were distributed unevenly, Lopez said. Staff could earn a few hundred dollars or up to $13,000 depending on their position and full-time equivalent hours. He said all workers have had to make sacrifices throughout the pandemic, and it appears the hospital has not recognized people fairly.

Lopez said that after the pay and bonus changes were announced, the union asked hospital management to discuss and reconsider salaries for non-nursing staff, but the talks quickly stalled.

In a statement, Memorial said it met with the union last week to discuss retention bonuses. The union did not send out dates for additional meetings as it was supposed to, according to Memorial.

“Instead, we learned today that the SEIU is planning to hold a protest at the hospital, as we are concerned it will disrupt our patients,” the statement read. “We also believe that their protest is both illegal and a violation of our collective agreement. We have asked the SEIU to stop this action and instead provide meeting dates as they agreed to do last week. At this time, we don’t know what the SEIU will decide to do.


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