Eugene: Hospital Support Staff Strike to Protest Working Conditions, Outsourcing

By Peter Garland

Last week, hospital support staff in Springfield, Oregon, initiated a two-day strike at the McKenzie-Williamette hospital to protest poor working conditions amid contract negotiations. The hospital is one of two for-profit hospitals in the state, and is managed by Tennessee-based health care corporation Quorum Health Corp.

The workers, represented by Service Employees International Union Local 49, report understaffed shifts, which force the limited support staff to overwork themselves for low pay. One worker in the hospital’s kitchen told Tribune that her area will work long strings of shifts without any day off. She said that many workers in other departments often work 12-hour shifts for as little as $13 an hour.

The hospital has also raised health insurance premiums by 27 percent. Rather than addressing its staff’s grievances, the hospital plans to replace around 100 support jobs with non-union workers through a Texas-based staffing company.

The strain placed on hospital workers has significantly increased throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which has worsened existing staffing issues endemic to the healthcare industry, and increased the burnout rate.

Kristie Green, who has worked in the hospital’s dietary department for 17 years, told Tribune: “Being understaffed and not getting paid enough has always been an issue that we just kind of get used to and deal with. But COVID definitely made things worse. Especially with the fact they [the hospital] are not providing us adequate protections from COVID. Other facilities have been able to provide better conditions and health care plans, but we have been given nothing.”

Outsourcing to non-union workers for support jobs allows the hospital to weaken the union’s collective bargaining strength, effectively making them able to ignore the strike’s demands.

“I don’t know how they expect adequate care for patients when they are over working and stressing all of us to the point where we are struggling to even take care of ourselves. It just really hurts that after all these years, they’re [the hospital] gonna outsource our jobs as if any of our work, and the relationships we’ve established, never mattered. They’re just forgetting about us. They don’t care and that’s all there is to it,” said Christie.

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