Local 1355 scores bargaining win against health care giant

Members of amalgamated Local 1355 this spring faced off against their employer, health care giant UPMC, to win a new, vastly improved contract at long-term nursing facility Avalon Place in Mercer County, Pa.

UPMC, a $9 billion health care system based in Pittsburgh that employs more than 80,000 people, took over the private facility in fall 2018. When they first came to the table in January of this year, they had no plans to budge on wages and overtime, two of the local’s biggest concerns. The bargaining committee didn’t back down and proposed an aggressive package, showing their employer that business was not going to be as usual.

Though many of the bargaining committee members were new to the negotiations process, Local 1355 President Tim Guriel said their greenness was outweighed by their commitment and solidarity.

“There were a lot of new leaders, which can sometimes make it hard, but they really kept their nose to the grindstone,” said Local 1355 President Tim Guriel. “Without that member support, we’re just going through the motions.”

Amber Morgan, a certified nursing assistant who has worked at Avalon Place for seven years, jumped into a leadership position as the local’s grievance officer, a position that was previously vacant. Her first time at the bargaining table was an interesting and challenging one.

“It was definitely a learning experience,” said Morgan. “It was difficult because you’re arguing with UPMC all day and then trying to work things out with your staff at night, and not everyone is happy.”

After the first contract was voted down in April, the team was able to keep pushing UPMC toward its goal of improving conditions for all workers at the facility. This summer, their persistence paid off when they ratified a strong contract with numerous gains.

“When you look at where our contract was and what we got, it is truly one of the best contracts I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Morgan said.

The new wage scale increases range from six percent to 15 percent over the three-year contract. Overtime was adjusted as well, and the members also gained long-term disability language and paid parental leave. Part-time workers will also now pay up to 50 percent less for their health care coverage. Previously, they were paying up to $600 a month for a family plan.

The approximately 65 Steelworkers at Local 1355 include licensed practical nurses and certified nursing assistants, as well as support staff including dietary aides, kitchen staff, and maintenance workers.

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