By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Union workers at nursing home Seattle Keiro took a vote on June 25 regarding a labor contract.
Members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 21 accepted management’s offer in a 60–4 vote. They approved their new contract by more than 90 percent, ending six months of negotiations. Their original three-year contract expired on Dec. 31, and their follow-up contract extension expired on Feb. 1.
Their new contract expires in December 2011.
“In 2010, there will be a 2 percent increase to the wage scale,” said Chuck Ardingo, negotiator of Local 21. The new contract also provides a continuation of health care benefits, a provision requiring management to bargain with the union before making any changes to those benefits, and access to sick leave or a ‘sick bank’ after three days, not seven.
“I’m happy after the long discussions,” said Lourdes Arquiza, a Seattle Keiro head cook for the last 19 years. “And for my co-workers, they finally get extra pay.” The nursing home employs about 110 union workers, ranging from nurse attendants to dietary staff.
Seattle Keiro management was “listening to the voice of our employees,” said parent company Nikkei Concerns Chief Executive Officer Susan Oki.
In regards to the factors affecting wages, she said, “Seniority, certainly, is important. … But, our employees said that they really looked at things like: ‘Do you work hard?’ ‘Are you a good team member?’ ‘Do you show up for work all the time?’ ‘Do you participate in training?’ ‘Do you care for the residents?’ Those are the most important things, and they felt that they needed to be rated and compensated on that.”
Oki said, “Also, [Seattle Keiro employees] see that nobody else is getting any extra money, and they tell us that, too, because a lot of them work second jobs, and they know how they’re treated at other places.”
“I think the agreement is really a testament to the great relationship that we, the management, have here at Seattle Keiro with our workers. And, that both are committed to providing the highest quality care in a financially responsible way. I think that, kind of, sums it up. As they all say, ‘No margin, no mission,’” she said.
Ardingo said, “It’s a very good contract for the folks at Keiro. We can move forward with Keiro and cooperatively work together.”
“Everybody’s happy,” said Arquiza about her coworkers’ vote for the new contract.
Three months ago, negotiations weren’t going well. Some union members wanted to remove the union and petitioned the National Labor Relations Board.
In the winter 2009 issue of Seattle Keiro newsletter Tayori, Oki wrote, “Our bargaining unit employees will soon have the opportunity to vote either for or against union representation. We believe that employees should say no to the union as union involvement creates a wedge between employees and Seattle Keiro.”
Seventy-four percent of union members later voted to keep the union.
In early April, more than 85 percent of union workers rejected management’s last proposal because, according to Ardingo, “There were a number of items that were not acceptable, and they wanted everyone to go back to the bargaining table.”
During the negotiations, union members gave notice to management on June 9 that they planned on holding an informational picket to educate Seattle Keiro residents and their families about the status of their contract.
“Right around that time, shortly after that, we were able to really start to come to some agreement about moving ahead and finalizing the tentative agreement,” said UFCW Local 21 Communications Director Tom Geiger.
“We were able to get a tentative deal, so that [picket] was called off,” added Ardingo.
Before the negotiations improved, union workers placed a full-page ad in the June 13–June 19 issue of Northwest Asian Weekly that included the question in bold letters, “When will management be willing to compromise with us?”
UFCW Local 21 represents a broad range of workers. “We’re the largest private sector union in Washington state. We have about 10,000-plus members in the health care related field, about 20,000-plus in grocery stores and then, several thousands working in others,” said Geiger. “[It’s] probably in the top five in the nation as far as the size of a local [union].”
Arquiza said, “If people are happy, they have a positive attitude, and they will work harder and provide better care for residents.” ♦
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.