Aspirus service and support workers ask for better pay, benefits
For the City Times
WISCONSIN RAPIDS – On May 3, Aspirus Riverview Hospital service and support workers, including CNAs, laundry aids, housekeeping staff, and dietary service workers, took to the streets asking for better pay and benefits.
With the support of the SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin union, workers demonstrated near the intersection of Eighth Street and Riverview Expressway, asking for additional compensation.
“In recent union contract negotiations with nursing assistants, environmental service specialists, dietary workers and laundry workers who are members of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, Aspirus executives have demanded a range of cuts to compensation and benefits. Their proposals include significantly increasing the amount that employees pay for the Aspirus-run health plan. Executives have also demanded to cut medical leave; increase dental insurance costs; and even take away Christmas Eve holiday pay for many workers. Instead of rewarding employees with a decade or more of service, Aspirus is proposing just a one percent raise, which would not be implemented until December,” a SEIU release stated.
“Recently an overwhelming majority of workers voted to reject Aspirus’ contract offer and signed onto a letter to CEO Matt Heywood calling on him to listen to their concerns.”
Workers say that they are not getting adequate compensation considering the current environment.
“I’ve cared for COVID patients at Aspirus Riverview Hospital throughout the pandemic, and got deathly sick with the virus myself,” said Heather Michels, a certified nursing assistant who has eight years at Aspirus. “This has been the most terrifying time of my career. Despite all my sacrifices, Aspirus only pays me $15.26 an hour, and they want to increase employees’ health insurance costs and make other cuts. Working through this health crisis has been especially scary as I have a daughter who is immuno-compromised and an infant son.
“Aspirus should acknowledge the loyalty and hard work of frontline healthcare workers.”
“My work as an environment services specialist in the critical care department is very physically demanding,” said Sarah Vonloh. “Using powerful chemicals, I have to make sure that the patient beds, floors and all surfaces are completely sanitized. I’ve felt a deep responsibility to be extra vigilant during the pandemic, so we can prevent the spread of COVID in our facility. My coworkers and I have given so much to our hospital, working extra weekends and holidays to get our community through this health crisis. Some employees were sickened by the virus, and many of us are facing burnout.
“Despite our hard work and sacrifices, we don’t feel like Aspirus executives understand, respect or appreciate our work. After 29 years, I still only make $15.89 an hour, and I’m forced to live paycheck to paycheck. I’m always scraping by, figuring out how to afford groceries, gas and all my bills.”
Workers are also noting the $21,929,933 that Aspirus facilities received through the Health and Human Services Provider Relief Fund, saying it should be used for patient care and the clinic workforce.
“Aspirus also received more than $52 million in taxpayer bailouts through the Coronaviusoronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. My coworkers and I want to make sure that those taxpayer dollars are going to patient care and the essential workforce that keeps Aspirus hospitals running every day, not just outsized executive pay packages at the top,’ Vonloh added.
“Unfortunately, instead of recognizing our dedication, Aspirus executives have demanded steep cuts in our latest union contract negotiations. It’s a sad irony that their proposals include significantly increasing the amount that employees pay for our health insurance, even though we provide care ourselves and also receive our healthcare through Aspirus. Additionally, executives have proposed reducing our medical and personal leave; and increasing our dental insurance costs.”
Aspirus released the following statement, “Aspirus values the contributions of all team members. We have enjoyed positive relationships with all our union partners, and look forward to continuing to negotiate in good faith with SEIU leaders and a federal mediator at our Wednesday meeting. Out of respect for that process, we will not be providing additional information at this time.”
Workers return to negotiations with Aspirus on May 5.