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Tentative contract stops hospital strike

Union workers at Deaconess, Valley to vote on deal

Unionized health care workers at Deaconess Medical Center and Valley Hospital and Medical Center will vote on a new labor contract today and Friday.

Details of the tentative agreement that prevented a one-day strike Wednesday have not been disclosed.

Union members will see the agreement for the first time today and Friday, said officials with Service Employees International Union 1199NW. The bargaining team recommends passage of the deal that was reached about 5 a.m. Wednesday, two hours before the scheduled strike, said SEIU spokeswoman Linnae Riesen.

Hospital executives said the deal was reached with the help of a federal mediator, who recommended the sides accept the agreement.

The union represents 950 employees of the two hospitals, which are owned by Community Health Systems Inc., a Tennessee corporation recognized as the nation’s largest for-profit hospital operator.

SEIU is among the nation’s largest organized labor groups, and its Seattle affiliate representing the hospital workers is among the largest in Washington state.

Details of the agreement could be released this week, including the length of the contract, compensation, benefit changes, and workplace and grievance policies.

“We value all of our employees and are very glad to have reached mutually acceptable agreements for those covered by collective bargaining agreements,” William Gilbert, chief executive officer of Deaconess Medical Center, said in a news release issued Wednesday.

Union members have been working since December 2008 without a contract.

During that time union members have accused hospital management of unfair labor practices, including the changing of benefits without bargaining, union-busting efforts and other issues. The company has denied the accusations.

Relations between the two entities reached a boil this summer as the union charges were taken up by the National Labor Relations Board as part of an administrative trial.

The hospitals and employees sought to assure the public that the disagreement did not pose an immediate threat to patient care.

The union represents technologists – such as respiratory therapists and radiology, ultrasound, medical laboratory and surgical technologists – and service workers such as housekeepers, food service workers, nursing assistants and health unit coordinators.

Registered nurses at Valley are unionized. Registered nurses at Deaconess voted two years ago to drop their union representation.

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