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Chambersburg Hospital employees rally against contract proposal

June 27, 2012|By ROXANN MILLER | roxann.miller@herald-mail.com
  • A huge crowd of Chambersburg (Pa.) Hospital employees gather for a rally Wednesday in front of the old Franklin County Courthouse in Chambersburg. Employee unions and the hospital are negotiating a new contract to replace one that expires Saturday.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Several hundred Chambersburg Hospital nurses and other health-care professionals rallied Wednesday in front of the steps of the old Franklin County Courthouse, protesting that their benefits are being reduced.

Workers are currently negotiating a new contract to replace the one that expires Saturday.

Hospital employees held signs that read “Hands off my Health Care” and “Be fair to those who care.” They chanted and listened to speeches by union representatives and fellow employees.

Employees told The Herald-Mail they are willing to pay more for their health care, but need raises to compensate for the increased cost.

Summit Health owns Chambersburg and Waynesboro hospitals. But Chambersburg Hospital is the only one affected by the contract.

SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, the state’s largest health care workers union, represents 1,300 of Chambersburg Hospital’s approximately 1,800 employees.

SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania Vice President Kevin Hefty said contract negotiations between the union and Chambersburg Hospital began in May.

“Employees will meet on July 2. We’re hopeful we’ll have a contract to vote on. If not, we’ll vote on what other steps to take,” Hefty said. “No one is interested in going on strike. We’re interested in finding a resolution.”

Hospital employees went on strike in the late 1970s, according to union officials.

Michele Hill has worked as a medical transcriptionist in the radiology department of the hospital for 32 years.

“The rally is to gain public support to show that we’re united and that everyone is pulling for everyone else to try to get a fair contract in the end,” Hill said.

In 2011, Summit Health made $44 million in excess revenue, according to a statement released by the union.

William J. Flannery, Chambersburg Hospital’s chief negotiator, said in a phone interview Wednesday night that the contract is between the hospital and the union, not with Summit Health. He said the margin of revenues over expenditures was closer to about half of what the union thinks it is.

He said that money is used for such things as wages and benefits, new equipment, supplies and physician practices.

Hill and other employees at the rally questioned why the hospital is threatening huge cuts to benefits.

“We’re willing to give on benefits, but we don’t want to take a pay cut to do it,” Hill said.

Sheila Colvin of Hagerstown has been a registered nurse for the hospital for 16 years.

Union employees who have been employed with the hospital for more than five years don’t pay a health-care premium, Colvin said.

“We don’t mind paying for some of our health care but we’re not willing to take a pay cut to do that,” she said. “We want to continue to stay at the local hospital and give good quality care to our patients, but not take a pay cut and our families hurt because of it.”

Bonnie Wik said what the hospital is asking the workers to pay for their health care in the contract proposal is “totally ridiculous.”

Wik, who has been a patient’s accounting representative at the hospital for 31 years, said she understands workers might have to absorb some of the increasing cost of health care.

“We do not mind paying something — but at least make it affordable. They aren’t making it within our reach,” Wik said.

“We have a lot of single parents with children (who work here). We want a fair contract. Make something happen that everyone can agree on — not just management,” Wik said.

In a statement released after the rally, Flannery said the hospital was not cutting salaries or benefits.

“The hospital needs to prepare for a future clouded with uncertainty and a health care reimbursement environment that will not be hospital-friendly in years to come. The federal government, state government, and the major insurance carriers all plan to pay the hospital less for services rendered,” Flannery said in the statement.

He said the hospital is proposing a new salary schedule for those hired after July 2012. But current employees will not be affected.

“This salary schedule is lower than the existing salary schedule. In many instances, our rates are anywhere from 25 to 30 percent above the market rates for comparable jobs. No one will take a pay cut,” Flannery said.

Regarding health care benefits, Flannery said the hospital is proposing a change.

“We think it’s appropriate that no matter how long an employee has been at the hospital — they should pay something toward the cost of their healthcare premium coverage,” Flannery said.

He said in the new contract the hospital is proposing employees begin to pay toward the cost of their health care.

Flannery said employees would begin at 9 percent of the premium, depending on the level of coverage they choose, up to 15 percent over four years. The rates take effect Nov. 1.

“On average, most American workers currently pay anywhere between 15 and 25 percent toward the cost of health care premiums. The hospital’s nonunion employees have paid a portion of their health care premiums for a few years, and they currently pay 10 percent toward their premiums,” he said.

“We are optimistic that a contract can be reached within the next few days,” he said in the statement.

Flannery also said the hospital is proposing a “generous” bonus if the contract is ratified by 8 p.m. Friday.

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