Saturday, July 10, 1999

More Straub
workers want union

Medical workers will vote
this month on whether the
ILWU will represent them

By Peter Wagner


Medical workers at Straub Hospital & Clinic are seeking representation by the International Longshore & Warehousemen's Union, saying job security, morale and patient care dropped since the hospital merged with Tennessee-based PhyCor Inc. in 1997.

"Conditions have really declined," said Shirley La'a, a nurse's aide and 10-year employee at Straub. "There's not enough staff. People are being asked to work double shifts -- 16 hours a day. That's not too safe."

Rick DeCosta, an ILWU organizer, said some of the hospital's 250 nonprofessional medical workers approached the union about a year ago. An election, overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, is scheduled July 30.

If the ILWU is endorsed by majority vote, negotiations begin for a union contract.

The employees -- nurse's aides, medical assistants, ward clerks, file clerks and other nonprofessionals -- would become the second group to win union representation at Straub, long conspicuous as a nonunion hospital among the mostly unionized hospitals on Oahu.

Some 112 registered nurses at Straub won representation by the Hawaii Nurses Association last July and contract negotiations are ongoing.

La'a said patient care at Straub is slipping because equipment is old and supplies are inadequate. She cited a recent case where a monitoring device broke down in the middle of a cardiac procedure. And she said bandages are sometimes scarce in the burn unit, where she works.

She blames PhyCor, a publicly traded medical management company based in Nashville that operates in 23 states.

"It seems like they're more interested in beautifying the place -- with landscaping and getting new vans with pictures on them -- than getting the equipment we need," she said.

Michelle Jerin Shirai, spokeswoman for Straub, said the hospital spent $13 million to $14 million on supplies in the past year. "We emphatically deny that any patient care has declined," she said.

Shirai had no comment on efforts to bring the ILWU into Straub.

But while La'a says she is concerned about patient care, other nonprofessionals at Straub privately say they're overdue for a raise and are worried about losing their jobs.

Straub in October laid off 152 maintenance, housekeeping and food service workers, several months after announcing a 3 percent pay cut for all employees, including doctors. The hospital cited a need to cut costs because of declining revenues.

Pay has not increased since, employees said.

Last week, Straub disclosed plans to close two of its 11 neighborhood clinics on Oahu. And the company yesterday began a new round of 40 layoffs. Those moves were attributed to declining medical insurance reimbursements.

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