On Wednesday September 17, workers who belong to Service Employees International Union Local 49 at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Northeast Portland will be holding a day-long informational picket and an evening rally in support of their struggle to win a fair contract, one that will put their pay on par with their counterparts at suburban hospitals in the Legacy system. Picketing will run from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and the rally will be at 5 p.m. Supporters are invited to turn out to show solidarity with the union workers. Legacy Emanuel is located at the corner of N. Vancouver and N. Stanton.
At stake in the negotiations are three basic issues: adequate compensation for hard work, quality of care at an important urban hospital in Portland, and fairness within the Legacy system.
There is also an online petition in support of the Legacy Emanuel workers and their union, for those who can't make the picket or rally, as well as those who do turn out.
The Legacy Emanuel workers who are members of SEIU 49 fulfill a number of caregiving and support roles at the hospital, in areas including surgery and the emergency department as well as other aspects of hospital care and keeping the organization running. Yet although Legacy is a well-financed non-profit regional hospital and healthcare delivery system, which boasts with pride of its ability to provide a wide range of services and to conduct significant research, members of their own staff at Legacy Emanuel cannot afford the insurance offered to them and their families, and have to turn to the Oregon Health Plan to provide coverage for their children.
Compensation for workers at Legacy Emanuel is below local standards, leading to high levels of turnover according to union workers. Such turnover affects quality of care, due to loss of experience and effects on staff teamwork. This matters for Portland healthcare. Legacy itself claims that it offers "[t]he children's hospital of choice of metropolitan-area pediatricians: Legacy Emanuel Children's Hospital, located within Legacy Emanuel Hospital." More specifically, as Portland parents know, Legacy Emanuel provides the primary Pediatric Emergency Department in Portland. In this and other respects Legacy Emanuel is a crucial link in the division of labor among area hospitals. Yet its compensation for staff is a weak link within the Legacy system and the region more generally. This should be a matter of community concern from the point of view of healthcare delivery as well as simple fairness to workers.
The issue of fairness to Emanuel workers within the Legacy system also has a social dimension. Legacy points out that its 9100 employees make the system one of the largest private employers in the Portland metro area. Within the system, Legacy Emanuel (along with Legacy Good Samaritan) is one of the system's two large tertiary hospitals (as opposed to community hospitals). The Legacy website describes Emanuel this way: "centrally located in northeast Portland, is a major provider of acute and tertiary care to the city and the region," i.e. in an area which historically has had a disproportionately lower income and disproportionately racial minority population, from which many of its workers are drawn. Paying Legacy Emanuel workers less than workers at other system hospitals, in addition to raising equity issues within the system, contributes to income inequities in area. Moreover, parts of Northeast near Legacy Emanuel have been the focus intensified development leading to displacement of many long-term residents. The challenges of increased costs for housing or for commuting in a time of rising transportation costs intensify the burden of substandard wages on Legacy Emanuel workers.
Although SEIU nationally is a member of the Change to Win coalition, which broke away from the AFL-CIO several years ago, Portland's branch of Jobs with Justice, an effort to promote solidarity among unionists at the local level sponsored by the AFL-CIO, is backing the Legacy Emanuel workers -- fitting a wider pattern of continued local cooperation despite the national split.
As progressives we ought to support these union workers in their struggles for fair wages and a decent livelihood. Political progressives ought also to recognize that Local 49 and other SEIU workers, through their union, are major allies in the effort to institute equitable social policies and create a decent city, region, state and nation for everyone. So, join with Legacy Emanuel's workers in Local 49 and with Jobs with Justice and take action to bring community pressure to bear on Legacy to do the right thing by its underpaid employees.