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Dignity Health union workers reach new contract agreement following fears of CHI merger

After talk of protests and fears over pending mega-merger with Catholic Health Initiatives, new contract stipulates health benefits, raises, bonuses.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

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Dignity Health and SEIU-UHW member workers at California Dignity Health facilities 

Have reached a new five-year contract as fears over job loss and wage cuts due to the proposed merger with Catholic Health Initiatives are laid to rest.

[Also: (Updated)Dozens of protests planned for Kaiser, Dignity workers over wage cuts, mega-merger]

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Fifteen-thousand union healthcare workers in California ratified the new contract with Dignity Health which expires April 30, 2023, the system announced Monday. It maintains employer-paid family healthcare and provides rising wages, with fully-paid, employer-provided family healthcare, which was a major point of contention in negotiations. Additionally, workers will receive 13 percent raises spread over five years, a one percent bonus in the second year, and will maintain their defined benefit pension. Dignity Health will contribute an additional $500,000 a year to a joint labor-management training program that helps workers stay up-to-date with the changing healthcare environment. 

In December 2017, Dignity Health announced plans to merge with Catholic Health Initiatives, with the proposed new system including more than 700 care sites and 139 hospitals, staffing roughly 159,000 employees and more than 25,000 physicians and other advanced practice clinicians. 

[Also: Dignity Health, Catholic Health Initiatives announce merger plans]

According to the union, the new entity would be the second largest non-profit hospital system in the United States, with operations in 28 states. 

"There is a general cautiousness with any merger that a company will try to make cuts and it creates unease for workers," Wherley said.

Union spokesman Sean Wherley had commented previously that members were concerned about wage cuts and layoffs as a result of the Dignity/CHI merger and wanted to know their jobs were secure such that they'd be able to stay in their communities and not have to leave for better-paying jobs.

Protests were actually held at three Dignity facilities before the new contract was ratified.

"All frontline caregivers should have strong wages and benefits because of the crucial role we play in delivering quality patient care, and we urge all hospitals to make a greater investment in caregivers, just as Dignity Health is doing with this agreement," said Dennis Anderson, a laboratory assistant at Mercy Hospital in Folsom, which is owned by Dignity Health.

"We are pleased that the SEIU-UHW has ratified a new five-year master contract that is good for our employees, communities and the patients we serve. The SEIU-UHW represents about 15,000 employees at 28 Dignity Health hospitals in California. In addition to annual wage increases ranging from two- to three- percent over five years, there will not be any changes to cost sharing of dependent health care coverage for these employees. Dignity Health is also increasing our investment in the Joint Employer Education Fund by $500,000 per year, which provides training and education specifically earmarked for Dignity Health employees. This agreement honors our commitment to our employees while acknowledging the significant challenges Dignity Health and employers everywhere in the U.S. face with the increasing cost of healthcare," Dignity Health said in a statement.

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
Email the writer: beth.sanborn@himssmedia.com