Unions matter to health workers like me

Summerlove McClish is a health care worker of 25 years and a 10-year employee of Tacoma’s St. Joseph Medical Center.
Summerlove McClish is a health care worker of 25 years and a 10-year employee of Tacoma’s St. Joseph Medical Center.

As a union member, I’m proud that my voice alongside my coworkers raises standards in my hospital and across Tacoma. Standing together gives us power and a say about our wages and work, and helps us hold our hospital accountable to its mission to care for our community.

The reality is that not enough working people have what we have. Our economy is out of balance with too much wealth in too few hands.

I’m a CNA at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, and I care for hospice patients and their families. Service jobs like mine are booming across the country.

It’s not an accident that non-union healthcare workers often get paid barely more than minimum wage. Hospitals, often among the largest employers in town, can set a wage standard that helps lift communities out of poverty – or keep them in it.

My family, like many others, is struggling to make it. My rent went up $300 a month this year and I still work three jobs, which is not uncommon for workers in Tacoma.

We need an economy and a government that helps workers like us get ahead. Powerful corporations and greedy politicians have rigged the system against working families by cutting pay and gutting union rights, which undercuts good jobs for working people everywhere.

As one example in our own hospital: In the last five years, CHI Franciscan has sent more than $90 million to the headquarters of its parent nonprofit organization in Colorado, when that money could have gone to invest in Tacoma patients and families.

This is alarming and makes it clear to us that CHI Franciscan should be doing better for our families and the patients we serve.

Because we’re in a union, my coworkers and I are doing something about it. We have a say about how much we’re paid and we recently won an agreement with our hospital to bring all workers up to a $15 hourly starting wage.

My coworkers and I were able to raise this standard because we have a voice at the table. We are now working to hold St. Joe’s administration accountable to affordable health care for our families and training programs that will help us advance our careers.

It only makes sense that CHI should provide affordable care to the healthcare workers who are at the bedside caring for patients.

If large nonprofits, corporations and CEOs succeed in stripping away the right to stand together and form a union from more workers, it will make it easier for employers to continue to push down our wages and gut our benefits.

This Labor Day we need to recognize that labor unions aren’t a thing of the past. They’re our strength and our power now to fix a broken economy and hold employers accountable. We need to rebalance the system so that workers continue to have the freedom to join together in unions and raise the standard of living for all of us.

Summerlove McClish has been a Tacoma area resident since 1985. She’s worked in healthcare for 25 years, and has been an employee at St. Joseph Medical Center and a SEIU Healthcare 1199NW member for 10 years.