Caregivers warn administration is using controversial state law as excuse to refuse discussion of critical issues impacting patient care
PRESS AVAILABILITY WITH CAREGIVERS BEFORE AND AFTER BOARD MEETING
WHAT: Caregivers to address meeting of GRMC’s publicly elected board of trustees
WHEN: Monday, April 23, 6 p.m.
WHERE: Greater Regional Medical Center, 1700 W. Townline St., Creston, Iowa, Medical Arts Plaza (MAP) Conference Room
CRESTON, Iowa — Caregivers at Greater Regional Medical Center are taking their campaign to protect patient care directly to the hospital’s board of trustees meeting Monday night.
The GRMC nurses, techs and service workers are concerned about the administration’s confrontational stance in negotiations for a new union contract. They worry hospital officials may seek to roll back strong patient care standards that have been established over the years during more cooperative and constructive talks.
“We want to work together with the administration to continue the excellent care we give to our patients and community,” says Dustie Burton, an RN in the med-surg unit at GRMC and a member of SEIU Local 199, the union of the hospital’s caregivers. “Unfortunately, we’re three months into negotiations and the administration is refusing to discuss vital issues like patient and employee safety. By having those discussions, we can make sure that continuity of care is the best that it can be.”
Negotiations at GRMC began in January. Looming over the talks is a controversial state law passed in 2017 that eliminated most collective bargaining rights for public employees. Since GRMC is a public hospital, its caregivers are affected by the law.
While that law makes wages the only mandatory subject of bargaining, there are still many “permissive” subjects — such as patient and employee safety, professional development and appropriate work hours — that hospital officials can discuss with caregivers. So far, GRMC officials have refused to.
“The new law makes it more challenging for us to come together in negotiations, but it doesn’t make it impossible,” says Cassie Wilmeth, a diet tech/cook and chapter president of SEIU Local 199 at GRMC. “We have always worked together for the good of Southwest Iowa at GRMC, and we shouldn’t let this unfair law stand in our way.”
The law has also had harmful effects beyond the bargaining table. In a hospital setting, caregivers feel they can be strong advocates for patient care when they have the support of union co-workers. But the law’s attack on union workers have left many caregivers worried that they can’t speak up as strongly for their patients.
In light of these concerns, the GRMC caregivers recently started a public campaign to protect patient care at the hospital. Earlier this month, they launched a website — GRMCStrong.org — that includes an overview of the issues at the hospital as well as an online petition promoting a cooperative approach to bargaining.
The direct appeal Monday night to the Board of Trustees, which oversees the hospital, marks the next step in this campaign to protect care. The board is a seven-member body elected by the voters of Union County.
The GRMC caregivers will be joined at Monday’s meeting by a group of community supporters, including workers from unions across western Iowa. The GRMC workers received strong support at the Western Iowa Labor Federation meeting in Creston last month. And the caregivers in turn, are backing other local workers, including the 300 union workers at Wellman Dynamics, the high-tech foundry in Creston, whose new owners have made ominous threats to silence their union voice.
With so many local workers fighting for fairness, there are signs a real worker movement is being born in Southwest Iowa. The new law attacking public employees required local teachers, municipal workers and other public employees to hold votes “recertifying” their unions. Only public safety workers were exempted.
The overwhelming majority of public employees have voted to stay united in their unions. The workers of GRMC also voted last fall on whether to recertify their union. They voted 165-to-10 to keep their union voice.
SEIU Local 199 represents 5,000 healthcare and public service workers across Iowa. It is an affiliate of the 2-million-member Service Employees International Union. SEIU’s Healthcare Division includes 1 million nurses, lab techs, environmental service workers and other vital staff who serve 60 million patients and clients.