Keith, a CT Technologist at RI Hospital, Describes the Strike

In the midst of the Rhode Island Hospital (and Hasbro Children’s Hospital) strike, I received a message from a friend named Keith, a CT technologist at Rhode Island Hospital. The message read, “Hey dude, this is going to sound weird. Is there any chance you could check out/review a restaurant that is being ridiculously awesome to my union while on strike? It’s called Amore and it’s basically IN the parking lot of Woman and Infants’ Hospital.  They have awesome sandwiches, gelato and most importantly, tonight they’re staying open late to give our union a place to drink/relax/use the facilities.”

Keith was in the middle of a union strike to protect his livelihood. He reached out to me not to help his own cause, but to shine a light on a local establishment that was treating him and his co-workers with kindness.

I started talking to him about the strike, searching for a way to cover this serious issue and fulfill his request. We decided that Keith should just formulate his entire explanation of the strike and send it over to me, and after he took some time to write it out for me, I read his story.

I don’t think any journalistic filter coming from myself (or anyone else) could improve on Keith’s words and personal experience with what’s happening to the union nurses and technologists at Rhode Island and Hasbro Children’s Hospital. So with Keith’s permission, we have decided to print his words in their entirety. See story on Amore Espresso Gelato Bar: motifri.com/thatsamore

If you’re looking to be informed about the strike, this kind of intimate, personal, hands-on statement is essential to understanding the viewpoint from the men and women working at the hospital and experiencing the situation at ground-level.

Keith wrote the following statement in private, to me, with no intention of being publicly seen in any capacity.

– Chuck Staton

“Never in a million years would I have thought that I would be manning a strike, not in healthcare anyway, maybe if I had taken a more stereotypical union job like an electrical worker (IBEW). I am in a union, the United Nurses and Allied Professionals, or UNAP, and I have been for 13 years. I have been at RI Hospital for 15 years. (The first two years was a different job; I was part of the Teamsters.)

“The whole 15 years I have worked in the CT department, which means I work closely with radiologists, neurosurgeons, emergency and traumatic medicine, oncology, cardiothoracic surgeons, pulmonologists and the list can go on. Each medical sub-specialty comes with a host of individuals in support roles, doctors (both attending and residents), nurses (some with advanced education to make them nurse practioners), technicians (lab, pharmacy, general repair), technologists (like me in CT but also includes others from diagnostic imaging, which is xray, ultrasound, CT, MRI, nuclear medicine, vascular interventional, radiation oncology and mammography), respiratory therapists, IV nurses, secretaries, unit assistants, transport aides and housekeepers. For the sake of this letter, let’s focus on the members of UNAP. That would include nurses, respiratory therapists and diagnostic imaging technologists.

“I am very proud of my job, my department and the work we do. We work at the ONLY level 1 hospital in the area. Level 1 meaning that the patients we see are in the worst possible conditions and other hospitals are not equipped to save their lives. I am somewhat sheltered in my role as a CT technologist, I only see these patients when a team of doctors and nurses declares them stable enough to sit on my scanner for 10 mins. If a patient is too unstable, they are either rushed to the OR or that team I mentioned fights to stabilize them. In either case there are people so well equipped to do that job, that they make it seem as routine as you or I Google searching music.

“Currently there are no official standards to define the proper nurse-to-patient ratios. However, our trauma nurses typically have two patients per one nurse. Less critical patients end up in areas where it could be four patients per one nurse, some places the patients are so critical they are one to one. However, there are uncountable stories from nurses when they escort their patients to CT, where that number is vastly different.  Sometimes double.  These  However there are countless stories from nurses when they escort their patients to CT, where that number is way off. Sometimes double. These nurses bring stories of not taking breaks (food or restroom) for eight hours, they bring stories of delayed care simply because there was no one there to provide the care. I’ve had nurses get in a panic because the 10 min CT got delayed and now their other patients are behind in their care. We hear all the nurses’ stories. Abusive patients, 90 year olds who die two days after their spouses, terminal cancer in 2 year olds, elderly patients whose families simply stop taking care of them, the saddest of sad and massively depressing. Yet two minutes later here comes another patient who needs their care. You couldn’t pay me enough to do their job.

“Here’s where things start to go awry at RI Hospital: Roughly 10 years ago, the economy was bad. And our union contract was set to expire. The hospital comes to the negotiating table saying that they would be unable to give us a raise, and that we would have to accept a much smaller cost of living increase. Being the hard-working, patient-centric union we are, we accepted that proposal. At the time we had a 403b (non-profit version of a 401k) where the hospital would match our contribution to a certain percentage, I forget if it was 4% or 8%, either way it was awesome. During that negotiation the hospital managed to change the wording from “Will match” to “May match.” Day after the contract was signed, they declared no longer matching contributions to 403b. So less pay for us, less stability in retirement.

“Next time the contract came around, typically every three years, with the occasional four-year contract slipped in. They again cried economic poverty. Again we relented to small cost of living, which typically goes up roughly 3% per year steadily, we got 3% over three years.  The hospital then decided to change around our health insurance polices. (Which I understand, long economic conversation for another time.) So again less pay for us, less retirement stability, and now higher insurance costs. The hospital then spent several million dollars buying the waterfront property that the PawSox wanted.

“Which brings us to this contract. Start with the easy stuff: Lifespan, the parent company of the hospital, declares that last year it made $27 million in profit as a non-profit institution. They have us fill out an employee satisfaction survey, which shows that the union feels we are understaffed, our equipment is old, and we feel that we are not being paid fairly when compared to other hospitals.

“(Side note: Westerly Hospital, which is a great hospital, deals with FAR less critical patients and makes 14% more per hour. Kent, Miriam, all the Southcoast facilities on the Cape, all make more per hour and have higher shift differentials. Meaning if you work third shift, you can get an additional $9 per hour. RI only pays $2.50. Socio-economically this means people come to RI Hospital and get trained to eat thunder and crap lightning, then go get paid more to sip tea.)

“The hospital comes to the table this time with a slightly higher raise proposal then the last few contracts. However, they want to vastly increase our insurance policies, in many cases the increase in cost of co-pays or medication would overshadow the pay raise. There was a clause that a small amount of people took advantage of where if you worked at the hospital prior to 1983 you got grandfathered into an insurance plan where you could work part time but pay the same as full time employees. They got rid of it, and didn’t tell anyone. Some people’s insurance would have gone up astronomically.

“We have a CORE account, which is basically a pension where the hospital puts money into an account at a percentage of your yearly wages. They want to dismantle it. Again, economically I agree, but their proposal is that we switch to a 401k and they will match up to 6%. History tells us that if we accept this, it’s going to go away. Maybe not right away, but come next contract it’s history. So if we decline they will continue to put up to 5% in our CORE account on top of whatever we save in our 403b for a total of 15% over the course of the contract. Or we can get 18% if we say yes. Sounds good, til it goes away. 5% over four years is greater than 6% for three and every year after they stop matching.

“Let’s summarize and get to how awesome everyone outside of Lifespan can be. The hospital has proven over the course of several contracts that they have no intention of negotiating in good faith. The Union, via the hospitals survey, has declared their concerns of being understaffed, using old equipment, of not having enough supplies, and being underpaid in a competitive market. The hospital has ignored this and we rejected the first contract they offered.

“They offered a second contract, which had money taken off the table to pay for the scabs to replace us. (Which is again not in good faith, because they have been planning this for almost a year now. Which is public knowledge.  And they have chosen to do this, not been forced to do this.) We rejected and went on strike. First time in RI Hospital History.”

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