Healthcare workers on strike. (Credit: SEIU1199 NW)
“Providence Health & Services is a not-for-profit Catholic healthcare ministry committed to providing for the needs of the communities it serves—especially for those who are poor and vulnerable.”
So reads the Providence website. But ask the members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW what they think of the five-state healthcare giant’s commitment to vulnerable workers, and they paint a very different picture.
More than 700 union workers went on strike in Olympia, Washington, to protest the nonprofit’s unilateral decision while at the bargaining table to switch employees from an affordable healthcare plan to a high-deductible plan. These workers at Providence St. Peter Hospital—which include everyone but the doctors, registered nurses and social workers—and the Providence SoundHomeCare and Hospice earn an average of $31,000 annually.
SEIU says the deductibles increased on January 1 from $750 to $3,000 for family coverage, and the workers face higher co-pays as well. The Segal Company, a benefits and human resources consulting firm, estimates that the workers will pay a total of $75,000 more in premiums under the new plan while Providence will pay $437,000 less. The lower a worker is on the wage scale, the more regressive the new healthcare plan is.
The problem isn’t that Providence is lacking in resources: the company reported $286 million in profits in 2011, and the CEO’s compensation rose from $3.1 million in 2010 to $6.4 million in 2011; the senior VP and chief administration officer’s pay rose from $1.5 million to $3.3 million; and the executive VP, western Washington region, saw his pay increase from $2.4 million to $3.5 million.
“The major healthcare provider in Thurston County is going in the wrong direction for our community,” said Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela. “[Providence] is increasing costs on workers who are least able to afford it. It’s not a good thing for our community to have workers choosing between their healthcare and other basic needs.”
Providence claims that the high deductibles will largely be offset by payments to workers for participating in a wellness plan, resulting in net deductible increases of roughly $250 for individuals and $150 for families.
But an SEIU source close to the negotiations says that the documents Providence is sharing with the union “show very different things than what they are saying in public.” Further, the wellness initiative was in place last year and only half of the eligible union members were able to meet the requirements—partly because the requirements kept changing, and partly because it was difficult for employees with irregular work schedules to meet with specific providers at prescribed times.