Outsourced lab workers respond by unionizing


More than 400 health care lab professionals who work for Lab Corporation of America (Labcorp) in Oregon and Washington will vote this May whether to join the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP).

Those labs used to be run by Legacy Health, where OFNHP in December organized a new unit of about 140 workers at the Meridian Park location in Tualatin. Labcorp provides lab testing for hospitals, clinics, and individuals in nearly 100 countries, according to its website. A 2020 Labcorp HR document says the company’s policy is to operate in a non-union environment. 

“In short, we do not think Company employees need a union,” the document says. “It is therefore our firm intention to oppose unionization of any Company workplace by proper and legal means available when the need should arise.” 

Legacy maintains ownership and licensure of most of its labs, but signed a long-term contract with Labcorp to operate them. That follows a trend of outsourcing certain hospital services to other companies, which can make it difficult to organize large “wall-to-wall” units that represent all of the workers in the same building, said OFNHP spokesperson Shane Burley.

“In general this has been a strategy that has been used to lower costs and raise profits on the backs of the workers,” Burley said. “It also breaks up the historic union strategy to create union density by shrinking worksites down.” 

But in this instance the outsourcing inspired the Meridian Park lab workers to organize with the same union that represents the other non-nursing staff in their building. And their energy spread to the other labs outsourced to Legacy. 

Kayleigh Sisson, a phlebotomist at the Woodburn Health Center lab, said she learned about the union drive through a colleague who works in the Meridian Park lab. For Sisson, the outsourcing hasn’t changed her job duties, but it did affect her benefits. For example, her insurance coverage changed, causing the out-of-pocket cost for one of the medications she takes to rise from $30 a month to $200. 

“A lot of us had to adjust and change as we were going through this (outsourcing),” Sisson said. “That security and comfort we had in our job, it just got ripped out from under us.” 

She was able to switch to another medication that cost less to save money, but the experience catalyzed her decision to support unionizing with OFNHP. Sisson, whose hourly wage is in the mid-$20 range, says she sees unionizing as a way to improve wages, recruit and retain workers, and prevent worker burnout — all things that improve patient care. 

“Despite being an essential worker who saves lives in health care, we are not being paid enough to fully support our families at times, and that can be a struggle in itself,” Sisson said. “I think unionizing is a step in the direction of all of us taking care of ourselves … so we can improve our patient care and quality of service.” 

In March, OFNHP asked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold union elections at  Labcorp labs in Tualatin, Gresham, Beaverton, Portland, Silverton, Woodburn, and Salmon Creek, Washington. The NLRB scheduled union elections for May 1-3. 


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