Members of SEIU Local 205 picketed Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge this week as an extended labor agreement is set to expire on November 15. The actions come in the wake of a vote taken by union members to authorize the bargaining committee to give the hospital a notice of intent to strike if an agreement cannot be reached.
“We hope it doesn’t come down to a strike, but we are united and we’re prepared to do whatever it takes to get a reasonable agreement with the hospital,” said Sondra Bryant, a registered nurse and member of the Union’s bargaining team.
“This is about our patients and our community, and not just about us,” said Linda Mabry, a registered nurse. “Patient care is always at the top of our agenda, whether it is maintaining adequate staffing levels or making sure employees are rested and alert. Patient care and safety should be non-negotiable, but we’re not sure the hospital sees it that way.”
The union contract covering over 800 employees expired on October 10th but was extended to November 15th. The acute care hospital is part of the Covenant hospital chain. SEIU has represented employees at Methodist since 1966. The key issues separating the parties include:
- The Union’s commitment to maintaining safe staffing levels and reasonable working hours for all employees;
- Methodist’s plan to slash wages for new employees;
- The Union’s call for quality, affordable health insurance which is on par with other Covenant facilities.
“We feel it is important that the public know what is going on at Methodist and the community support has been incredible,” said Dustin Whalen, a unit secretary at the hospital. “Methodist’s proposal to cut wages would hurt our community. These are good jobs that allow us to provide for our families and stimulate economic activity in the area and we can’t see taking this away from our future co-workers,” Whalen said.
Methodist proposes to hire new employees at between 15% to 20% below current starting pay. Under MMC’s proposal, some new employees would start at $5.00/hr. less and some employees would be hired for under $10.00 an hour.
“We are ready to sit down and hammer out a contract that is reasonable and fair. We hope MMC is too,” said Brad Rayson, president of SEIU Local 205.