Workers at PeaceHealth represented by SEIU 49 held informational pickets in Eugene (University District), Springfield (Riverbend), and Longview, WA (St. John) on Tuesday. The union is still at the bargaining table and this was not a strike. With this action they aimed to amp up pressure on management and gather community support to bring about a fair contract.
The union has been bargaining for a new contract since June of this year, with an emphasis on fair wages and safe staffing levels. Workers say that the hospitals have been chronically understaffed and much of it is related to wages, as workers are leaving the company for better wages. PeaceHealth is only offering a 3% cost of living adjustment for the first year, when workers say many make less than what a fast food service worker makes. This will be the first new contract since the beginning of the pandemic
“Folks are on the front lines having to deal with the infected community members coming in with COVID. A lot of them watch people die is a very difficult thing to be going through and family members weren’t allowed to come in to health facilities during that time because of the COVID. You know here we are three out three years later, and we’re still dealing with COVID, but they don’t intend to pay us anything for that.” Ryan Hohman, a mental health tech and member of SEIU 49 bargaining team at PeaceHealth.
Solidarity News visited the picket lines in University District and Riverbend where each had a solid turnout of over 50 people. In addition to union’s own member, workers from GTFF, Oregon Nurses Association, UO Student Workers, and Starbucks Workers United were present. SEIU 49 has over 2,000 members working at PeaceHealth that include food care, housekeeping, and CNAs. SEIU designated the Riverbend location as the main picket line, as there are more workers there and management resides there, however there was still a good showing at the University District.
A reoccurring message workers brought up was stories about them having to work dozens of consecutive days just to mare ends meet. Susan, a chef in food services, talked about a fellow worker in her kitchen going on 45 consecutive days. Brittnie, an Oncology CNA, talked about having to work two jobs and sometimes 60 hours a week.
“We’re out here because it should not make me wonder if I’m going to be able to afford my rent if I have to go to the doctor,” Rachel Dennis, a worker with PeaceHealth for nine years, said.