Technical staff at the PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center (PHSW) in Vancouver have voted to join OFNHP in an effort to improve patient care and create a culture of stability and security for workers at their hospital.
The vote on June 1 and 2 culminated nearly two years of hard work to form a union. It was a decisive victory, in which the techs voted 211 to 77 in favor of the union.
Many of them had aspired for years to be part of a union as conditions grew worse, but previous attempts failed. The hospital was known as Southwest Washington Medical Center until it merged with the PeaceHealth network in 2010. Nurses at the hospital unionized in 1998; they are represented by the Washington State Nurses Association, a sister union in the AFT.
“It’s overwhelming. We sent the message that we wanted to send,” says Eric Quinn, a CT tech who has worked at the hospital for 12 years. “We didn’t just win—it was a blowout.”
The PeaceHealth techs want to address several priorities through their union. They are most concerned about worsening conditions like short staffing and lack of access to educational opportunities. Over the years, there have been cuts to technical staff, which have made providing high-quality patient care much more difficult. In addition, health insurance benefits have been reduced and paid leave slashed.
Quinn says voting for the union is a chance to turn things around at the hospital. “I saw potential for real change, for us to have a voice,” he says. “I work hard. I want to do my job and not have to worry about staffing levels. My motivation is to have a stable, safe working environment.”
The techs chose to unionize with OFNHP because as a member union of AFT there is strength in numbers. “The nurses and techs together make us stronger,” says Ali Shaw, a respiratory therapist who has worked for seven years at PHSW. Quinn agrees: “A win presents a united front of all hospital employees.”
The new group, PeaceHealth Caregivers United, has 310 technical employees, including MRI, respiratory, mammography, surgical, radiology, CT, ultrasound, anesthesia and pharmacy techs, and LPNs. They will be part of OFNHP, and through our union, members of the healthcare division of AFT.
The next step is to elect a bargaining team and begin negotiations with their employer for their first union contract. With such a strong margin of victory, they head into negotiations with a mandate for improvements.
“Across the country, healthcare professionals are joining our union because they see that union representation gives them a vehicle to advocate for respect, voice, and fair pay and benefits for themselves, and for better conditions for the patients they serve,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten. “In recent years, conditions for licensed technical workers at PeaceHealth Southwest have grown worse and worse—with layoffs, the loss of paid leave, fewer benefits and dangerously low staffing. Health professionals’ working conditions are patients’ healing conditions—now that they’ve formed a union, these workers have a new way to advocate for themselves and their patients.”