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Victory for Hospital Workers 3 Years After Forming Union

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Three years in the making, the bargaining team for workers at Providence Milwaukie Hospital are celebrating their first contract. (SEIU Local 49)
Three years in the making, the bargaining team for workers at Providence Milwaukie Hospital are celebrating their first contract. (SEIU Local 49)
 By Eric Tegethoff - Producer, Contact
May 12, 2021

MILWAUKIE, Ore. -- After nearly three years of negotiations, workers at a Providence hospital in Oregon have settled their contract.

About 170 workers, including certified nursing assistants, phlebotomists and dietary workers, voted to form a union as part of SEIU Local 49 in 2018 at Providence in Milwaukie.

Michelle O'Neill, a cleaning attendant at Providence, was a member of the bargaining team who met Vice President Kamala Harris about a year and a half ago. O'Neill said Harris' inspirational words kept her going.

"What we were doing was not just important for us, it was important for all those who come after us," O'Neill stated. "And nothing more powerful could have been said to me because we know we're not the only ones in this fight."

The union's contract includes a 13% raise for most workers over a three-year period and access to affordable health care. O'Neill noted another provision in the contract ensures reliable scheduling.

Charlene Cox, a patient cook with nutrition services at Providence and a member of the bargaining team, said the tough work conditions during the pandemic have emphasized the need for a union.

She encouraged people at other workplaces to consider banding together.

"It's really important for them to realize that it's OK to stand up to management, and they have a voice together, and they're stronger together, and there's no need to be afraid," Cox asserted. "It can be done. If we did it, they can do it."

Cox said another important part of the contract lays out a grievance process for workers.

SEIU Local 49 represents more than 15,000 health-care and building-service workers in Oregon and southwest Washington.

Disclosure: SEIU Local 49 contributes to our fund for reporting on Livable Wages/Working Families, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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