SEIU-member employees ratify new contract

LEWISTOWN – Employees of Geisinger-Lewistown Hospital who are members of Service Employees International Union voted Monday to ratify a new two-year contract with the hospital.

There are about 180 hospital employees who are represented by SEIU working in support services, including food service, housekeeping and maintenance. More than 100 of them participated in the vote, with an “overwhelming majority” choosing to ratify the new contract, according to a press release from SEIU.

The union members held a one-day strike on May 6, citing the hospital’s failure to reveal health care cost calculations as a violation of labor law. Other issues in question included reduced starting wages for new employees and eliminating the employees’ pension plan in favor of a 403(b)-style defined contribution plan.

But the union and the hospital went back to the table for another round of negotiations on June 4, which ultimately led to Monday’s vote for ratification, SEIU spokesperson Karen Gownley said.

According to the release from SEIU, the agreed-upon terms include lower health insurance costs, salary increases and bonuses, and a 403(b) retirement savings plan.

The reduction in health care costs could save employees nearly 50 percent in contributions, while the wage increases allow for a 1.5 percent raise this year and a 2 percent raise next year. Additionally, full-time employees will receive a one-time bonus of $350 and part-time employees will receive $175.

“We are proud to have won fair raises and big health insurance savings. Those things mean a lot to working families,” said Lisa Snook in the release, who has worked at the hospital for 14 years.

The new contract terms also dictate that the wage scales will be neither frozen nor lowered for current employees, nor lowered to less than $10 per hour for new employees.

Improvements to the seniority system, distribution of extra hours and notification of schedule changes will also be made. Employees will continue to receive an allowance for uniforms as well, Gownley said.

The SEIU members will move to Geisinger’s seniority system, which differs from Lewistown Hospital’s. Extra hours will be distributed on a rotating basis via an extra work list and employees will be notified of schedule changes at least one day in advance by telephone or in-person conversation with the employee, Gownley said.

The union members’ defined benefit pension plans will still be replaced by the 403(b)-style defined contribution plan, according to the release.

“This was a very long, difficult negotiation process and that means compromises and tough decisions had to be made,” said Teresa Williams in the release, a sterile processing tech at the hospital and president of SEIU’s local chapter.

“I am pleased that employees represented by the Service Employees International Union have voted to ratify the terms of a new two-year labor agreement,” said Kay Hamilton, chief administrative officer of Geisinger-Lewistown Hospital. “With this ratification, these represented employees will now be eligible to receive the particular wages and benefits negotiated on their behalf.”

The contract has been under negotiation since January. Gownley said the new contract will go into effect immediately and will expire in June 2016.