SEIU charges Legacy with misplaced priorities

About 400 workers at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in North Portland may go on strike if management doesn’t soon reach agreement with their union. Certified nurse assistants, housekeepers, nutritionists and emergency room technicians at Legacy Emanuel belong to Service Employees (SEIU) Local 49. Their contract with Legacy Health Systems expired July 30 without further extension, and on Aug. 5 management escalated the conflict by halting union dues collection.

Wages are the chief issue at dispute. Workers in the unit average $12.85 an hour, and say they won’t settle for the 2 percent increase management put on the table — not at a time when Legacy, a non-profit, is swimming in cash and just raised its chief executive officer’s annual salary from $1.4 million to $2.2 million.

Local 49 staff director Ron Ruggiero said the money spent on Legacy CEO Robert Pallari’s one-year raise alone could have raised wages 11 percent at the Legacy Emanuel bargaining unit.

“They’re putting profits and CEO pay above patient care,” Ruggiero said. “There’s no way we’re going to accept 2 percent. It’s an insult to our members’ commitment.”

Legacy Health System includes Portland’s Legacy Emanuel and Legacy Good Samaritan hospitals and a handful of community hospitals, clinics and other facilities. The network has 7,800 employees and last year reported $64 million in excess revenues. Its newest community hospital, Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital in Vancouver, Washington, opened Aug. 15; Legacy was able to pay its $285 million construction tab out of cash reserves.

Pallari, 56, is scheduled to retire Oct. 1. He is reportedly the best-paid hospital executive in Oregon.

Besides a bigger wage increase, the union is asking for increased staffing, less expensive family health coverage, and a one-time one-year contract, so that future contracts at the Legacy Emanuel unit would expire at the same time as a similar 300-member unit Local 49 represents at Legacy Good Samaritan in Northwest Portland. Management wants to continue with a three-year contract. Legacy spokesperson Lise Harwin described the wages in management’s proposal as “market competitive,” and said the benefits proposal is the same Legacy gives its non-union employees.

That’s missing the point, Ruggiero responds. “The point is: Why is a health care organization that had $64 million in excess revenue not providing fully-paid family health care?’ ”

The two sides have been bargaining more than three months and continue to meet weekly. Ruggiero said the unit voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if a better deal isn’t forthcoming.

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