Astria picket

Health care workers and supporters gather Nov. 20 to represent the Washington State Nurses Association and the Service Employees International Union Health Care 1199NW near Astria Regional Medical Center on Walnut Street and Ninth Avenue in Yakima.

The Washington State Nurses Association and Service Employees International Union Health Care 1199NW have new contracts for hundreds of employees they represent at Astria Regional and Astria Toppenish.

The agreements were ratified earlier this month, after more than a year of tough bargaining that prompted the unions to hold an informational picket outside Astria Regional in the fall.

At that picket, union members expressed concerns about staff shortages that resulted in employees working long hours at wages well below those paid at other hospitals.

Representatives for the Washington State Nurse Association noted that wages for nurses at both hospitals were 15 percent lower than at other hospitals in Eastern Washington, including Astria Sunnyside.

Union representatives said that while they saw some progress with wages and benefits in their respective contracts, Astria Health still has issues to work out.

“This is not the contract the nurses deserve,” said Jayson Dick, the Seattle-based nurse representative for the WSNA. “But we believe that it’s the best we’re going to get given our perception of the hospitals’ financial position.”

John Procopio, who has worked as a nurse extender at Astria Regional for 22 years and served as an SEIU representative, said he felt Astria Health inherited financial issues from former owner Community Health Systems. He believes that as those issues are resolved, the union can negotiate better contracts.

The new SEIU contract covers certified nursing assistants, X-ray technicians, cardiac technicians, housekeepers, dietary workers and other employees at Astria Regional.

The new contract provides better wages, though far from competitive, according to Procopio.

“Eventually what I’d love to see — is the hospital setting the standard rather than keeping up,” he said.

When asked about the ratified contracts, Astria Health said this in an emailed statement: “All Astria Health caregivers and employees play key roles in patient care. We are committed to recruiting and retaining the best staff and providing quality health care services to patients and families.”

Reach Mai Hoang at maihoang@yakimaherald.com or Twitter @maiphoang