Seattle Press
Community Leaders Back Workers In Hospital Strike
A wide range of community leaders have been looking into issues behind the strike of nearly 100 workers at West Seattle Psychiatric Hospital, now in its 9th week. WSPH workers won a union representation there in November, 1997, and struck August 25 after months of fruitless negotiations.

On October 22, members of the Jobs with Justice Workers Rights Board, held a hearing at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and heard testimony from strikers, community residents, senior citizens and a psychiatrist.
Board members convening the hearing were John Boonstra, Executive Minister of the Washington Association of Churches, Dave Della, Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs and Judith Kolokoff, American Friends service committee.

Susan Harmon, co-chair of the Highline Community Council told the panel that if the hospital workers were paid better and had more job security, "They'd be able to live in the neighborhood where they work and our community would be stronger."

Harmon said neighborhood residents were concerned about the quality of care patients were receiving during the strike. "Its wrong to mix the fragile elderly patients with the young violent ones." Harmon said all the neighborhood councils in the area had passed resolutions of support for the strikers. She lives a few blocks from the hospital.

Another witness, Will Parry, Exec. Dir. of the Puget Sound Council of Senior Citizens, said, "It could be any of us in there as patients one day. We have a responsibility as a community to make sure they have the best care possible. And you can't have good care in a hospital where there is 40% turnover and people are afraid for their jobs."

Chrie Landreth, a striking Mental Health Specialist said, "It would be easy for me just to quit and go someplace else, but my patients don't have that choice. The families of some of my patients have told me the hospital is using heavier medications on the patients during the strike."

Others testifying included strikers Tyler Bass, and Rachel Usher, Chris Bodin, District 1199 Sec. Treas. Dr. David Hall, and Miguel Orozco.

Bodin charged in her testimony that hospital management had illegally helped a group of anti-union employees file a decertification petition against the striking union. The petition, which was thrown out on technical grounds, would have forced another vote on whether to have a union a delayed negotiations indefinitely or possibly permanently. Bodin said the hospital had given anti union workers use of hospital office equipment and bulletin boards to campaign against the union. it is illegal under federal labor laws for employers to encourage or support such activities. "We have witnesses," Bodin said, "We have evidence and we'll be filing charges."

No hospital executives testified at the hearing, but the Seattle Press later talked to Dr. David Barrett, Director of Quality Improvement at the hospital.

Barrett said the hospital would be glad to go back to the bargaining table at any time, but would not agree to a union shop clause. (A union shop clause means that all the workers who are covered by a union contract have to pay dues to the union.)

Barrett said that several non-striking workers were opposed to the union and the hospital wanted to make sure their rights were protected.

Barrett also denied charges from striking workers and community leaders that patients were receiving sub standard care during the strike. He said the hospital operations are constantly monitored by United Behavioral Health, an outside medical inspection service. "They gave us a clean bill of health. They have found nothing wrong," he said.

Charges that the hospital is understaffed or that patients are over-medicated "Are flatly untrue," Barrett added.

Chris Bodin, the union secretary treasurer said the Hospital's offer to return to the bargaining table was "disingenuous."

"What's the point of sitting down at the table if they've made up their minds to oppose a union shop? That's something the workers know is really important. A majority of the hospital employees voted for this overwhelmingly, and they proved how important it is to them by striking. Why doesn't the hospital honor the wishes of the majority? That's the democratic way."

Bodin also said the UBH reports which Barrett said gave WSPH a 'clean bill of health' were being withheld from the public. "Not even the County Council has been allowed to see them," she said.
Bodin said the union was filing suit to have the UBH reports released. "If its such a rosy report, why won't they let any one see them?" she asked.

The Workers Rights Board consists of about 20 community leaders who have been invited to serve by Jobs with Justice, a Seattle workers advocacy organization. There are 14 other members including Margaret Levi, UW Professor of Political Science, Betty Sullivan, League of Women Voters, Faaluaina Pritchard, Korean Women's Association and Juan Bocanegra, Director of Downtown Human Services.