MADISON (WKOW) -- A group of UnityPoint Health-Meriter employees were joined by community leaders and elected officials in protest of the hospital system's vacation hours policy.
Union employees like food service and environmental service workers say they've risked their lives to keep the hospital running.
They gathered outside the hospital late Thursday afternoon.
The group is upset Meriter's parent company UnityPoint Health made nearly $276 million in profits, but executives are unwilling to give employees additional time off to recover from the pandemic. The hospital system includes dozens of hospitals in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa. Meriter made $67.8 million, which represents a 4.1% operating margin.
“As an environmental services worker, I sterilize and disinfect the operating room at Meriter to very strict standards, and I’m proud to protect our patients from infection,” said Michael Elvord, who has worked at Meriter for six years. “We’ve always taken our jobs extremely seriously, but during the pandemic, we ratcheted up our vigilance. We hold ourselves accountable to doing our jobs with the highest care, because we know our family members could be next in that room getting a surgery or C-section. We all had a lot of fear about being infected with the virus or bringing it home to loved ones, but we came to work every day and did our jobs. Now we need to replenish ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally. Quality healthcare delivery takes an entire team, and UnityPoint Health-Meriter needs to show that our whole team matters by treating us with dignity and respect.”
UnityPoint Health-Meriter released a statement ahead of the protest to address the situation:
We value all our team members and their work throughout the pandemic. We continue to provide all team members with compensation and benefit programs that are in line with, if
not leading, the market, including ample time off, robust wellness programs and free mental health support. We also offer support options and career growth programs specifically for employees who identify as Black, Indigenous or a person of color.
We met recently with SEIU to discuss additional earned time for service and support union members.
When we last bargained a collective bargaining agreement with the service and support unit, SEIU and UnityPoint Health - Meriter agreed upon the wages and benefits to be paid to the represented team members through March 6, 2022. For long-time employees, this includes up to seven weeks paid time off earned each year. We are open to considering a change in these jointly agreed upon benefits and continuing the conversation during the next negotiations for a successor agreement, as is standard practice in union environments.
Until negotiations begin, we will continue to follow our mutually agreed upon contract in good faith, and we urge SEIU to do the same. Unfortunately, since early 2021 SEIU has, on numerous occasions, chosen
not to follow our agreed upon contract and processes, including the required notifications when SEIU leadership comes on hospital premises, following our visitor registration processes and adhering to our
well-established COVID-19 protocols. We continue to remind SEIU of its obligations under the contract and hope going forward the SEIU will follow all our agreed upon contract and safety policies.