Hospital employees push for raises

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 May 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Employees at Orleans Community Health were out in downtown Medina trying to get public support for a new contract. These employees are pictured in front of the Bent’s Opera House.

MEDINA – Workers at Medina Memorial Hospital/Orleans Community Health say their pay would barely budge over the next three years, according to the contract proposal from Medina Memorial.

The 281 employees in the union were out doing public demonstrations in downtown Medina today, and will be back from noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday, trying to build public support for a new contract.

Orleans Community Health is offering a three-year deal that would keep employees’ pay at no increase the first year, followed by a 0.25 percent pay hike and then another 0.5 percent in the third year, said Gerard Wojcinski, a respiratory therapist at the hospital and a union delegate.

He said Medina employees are already the lowest paid healthcare workers in Western New York hospitals represented by the union, 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.

Workers at Medina Memorial/OCH are pushing for raises at 5.75 percent in the first year, followed by 4 percent in both the second and third years.

“It would help increase our pay compared to other hospitals in the area,” Wojcinski said at Medina Rotary Park today.

There were about 25 OCH employees at the demonstration this afternoon. Wojcinski said many of the passing cars gave the demonstrators supportive honks.

In addition to the small pay increases, Medina Memorial/OCH leaders want to cut shift differential pay for nurses on the night shift. That is currently a 20 percent difference over the nurse pay during the day.

Workers at Medina Memorial/Orleans Community Health are pictured at Rotary Park. The group includes, from left: Donna Keavney, Debbie Stocker, Noel Kepner, Stephanie Atwell, Gerard Wojcinski, Terra Blount, and Maria Higgs with her children Lincoln and Wyatt Higgs in stroller.

Wojcinski also said a training and education fund would be eliminated, and workers wouldn’t be able to carry over as much unused time. With the most recent contract they could carry over 150 hours a year, but the hospital is proposing to reduce that to 37.5 hours maximum. Anything beyond 150 hours was previosuly paid at the employees’ regular hourly pay. That would be cut by 75 percent after 150 hours of unused carryover time, Wojcinski said.

Employees would also lose pay step increases, weekend differential pay, daily overtime pay, and a drop in Christmas and New Year’s holiday pay, the union said.

The employee contract expired on Dec. 31, 2014.

The pay raises and benefit requests by the union would cost the Orleans Community Health an additional $1.7 million a year, OCH leaders said in a statement today.

“The changes in healthcare reimbursement and shifts in patient volume continue to impact many area healthcare organizations like Orleans Community Health,” OCH said in a statement. “The current contract includes pay practices such as daily overtime and shift differential (from 7.5% to 20% of the hourly pay rate). These pay practices can no longer be supported under the current healthcare environment.”

OCH has proposed the same health insurance and pension programs for employees.

“Orleans Community Health must make sure we have affordable and quality healthcare available for our community,” according to the statement.

Wojcinski and the union say they worry about high staff turnover and low morale if the OCH proposal goes through.

The union said the hospital management and employees have weathered some tough years to keep Medina Memorial open. But the site has turned the corner now that it has higher federal reimbursement rates as a “critical access hospital” and an affiliation with the Catholic Health System, providing access to physicians.

“That’s why we don’t understand why hospital management is demanding that we take pay and benefit cuts in our contract negotiations,” according to a flyer given out by the union today.