Virginia Mason Memorial hospital workers protest new health care plan | Local

YAKIMA, Wash. — “Affordable care is under attack! What do we do?” “Stand up, fight back!”

More than 60 employees and supporters joined a picket line outside Virginia Mason Memorial hospital Thursday afternoon, chanting themselves hoarse in the smoky air about the hospital’s new employee health care plan and aggressive billing policies.

Service workers at the Yakima hospital — including nursing assistants and housekeeping and dietary staff — have been in contract negotiations with the hospital for a year with no agreement. The next bargaining day is Sept. 21.

Christina Gonzalez, a certified nursing assistant in the ICU, says her job at Memorial is the first time she’s had private health insurance, but it hasn’t been what she’d hoped.

After a recent medical procedure, she said, her wages were garnished before she received any notice of garnishment, and they took $400 out of each paycheck for at least three checks. She’s still never seen the actual bill.

Alice Westphal, a certified nursing assistant in the general surgery department, says she was taken to collections over a $10 medical bill.

The biggest concern, said Linnae Riesen, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW communications director, is that Memorial changed the employee health plan without going through the required bargaining process, as stipulated by the contract. That complaint will go before a hearing with the National Labor Relations Board later this month, she said.

Before, hospital employees didn’t pay for their health care at all. Now the plan costs about $100 a month.

“For service workers making minimum wage, that is really a significant amount,” Riesen said.

Memorial directors had no comment aside from an official statement, citing the ongoing contract negotiations.

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