One union feels safe

EAST LIVERPOOL – Although some changes being made at East Liverpool City Hospital could result in loss of employment, two units of the Service Employees International Union District 1199 expect all their jobs to remain intact.

The SEIU 1199 represents 210 hospital workers including nutrition and environmental services as well as licensed practical nurses, patient attendants, a variety of technicians and attendants and ward clerks.

In a recent release, hospital officials reported it had partnered with American-based, nationally recognized companies for several things, including billing, collections, housekeeping and dietary.

During an interview this week, Kate Watts, SEIU administrative organizer, confirmed that two units of the SEIU will transfer from being hospital employees to AVI Food Services, a Warren-based company.

A total of 24 nutrition support service employees and 26 environmental services (housekeeping attendants, floor/sewer service workers) employees will become AVI employees.

Watts and union members Cindy Smith and Jerry Blaschak said they fully expect all food service and housekeeping jobs to remain intact.

Watts said notice was received Oct. 15 that the 50 employees would be transferred from nutrition and environmental services to AVI.

“They kept the reasons fairly vague. We assume it was a cost-saving measure,” Watts said.

Blaschak, a cook with the union, said workers were assured there would be “zero loss of jobs.”

To that end, Watts said, a notice has been sent to AVI, requesting to begin negotiations, emphasizing, “We made it perfectly clear we intend to maintain all employees in the union.”

She said the company, which works with other union shops, is required to engage in bargaining with the union and said, “We will be using the terms in the current contract.”

Blaschak, a 16-year NSS employee, said, “Our biggest hope is we can go into this process and AVI will recognize the value we’ve brought to (the hospital) and the community. The hospital has been here 100 years and we hope it will be there in another 100 years. It is part of our family. The community needs the hospital as badly as the hospital needs the community.”

Smith said it was important to get the word out that the changes being made by the hospital are not going to affect these 50 jobs.

“We need our SEIU members to know they’re safe,” she said.

In addition to outsourcing these services, the hospital has reduced administrative personnel, reduced benefits and offered early retirement programs to employees, according to the previous release, which said the early retirement incentives were offered to prevent layoffs and other reductions in force.

Reduction in reimbursement, including health reform, implementation of Obamacare, reduction in reimbursements by the Sequestration and other indigent care programs, increases in the number of uninsured community members and the reduction in employer-sponsored health insurance combined to cause major challenges to the hospital, according to the earlier release.

Hospital president and CEO Ken Cochran said previously his first responsibility is ensuring the hospital is able to provide the best care possible for patients, who are being put first as the hospital designs a new business model for the future.