Workers would be covered by Tower Health’s recently launched insurance plan, but it didn’t yet seem to have any “in-network” doctors in Philadelphia, as most of Tower’s hospitals are outside the city. That meant the workers, many of whom didn’t have cars, would have to travel outside of Philadelphia for care until Tower Health built out its coverage network.
But on Friday, after more than a year of negotiations, the roughly 200 workers — phlebotomists, nursing assistants, emergency room technicians — finalized a three-year contract that addresses their healthcare concerns, as well as issues they had with wage disparities. It’s a window into what could happen when, in this healthcare consolidation frenzy, a unionized hospital gets acquired and joins a network with nonunion hospitals. (Three of five Tower hospitals are not unionized. At the time of acquisition, the hospital network employed 11,000.)
“There were a lot of smiles when we signed the contract,” said Gary Canada, a certified nursing assistant and vice president of the Chestnut Hill Hospital chapter of SEIU Healthcare PA.
The new contract, he said, allows workers to access health care that’s not covered by Tower’s network if a “hardship" can be shown. Hardship could mean a doctor is an hours-long bus-ride away or has a waiting list that is extremely long. Chestnut Hill Hospital, for example, does not have a maternity ward. If a Chestnut Hill Hospital worker is pregnant, she could get a referral for a doctor closer to her home.
A similar situation applies for emergency care: Workers will be covered under Tower’s plan, even if the hospital is not in-network.
The other major win for workers, Canada said, was that the new contract closes wage gaps. Some workers with more experience were getting paid less than those with less experience because there was no wage scale to follow.
Under Tower’s new wage scale, workers will be able to get up to an 8 percent raise each year for the next three years in order to bring their wages up to the appropriate level.
The workers also won a stipulation around subcontracting, which says that if Tower Health were to decide to subcontract out a department, then the contractors would have to offer jobs to all the workers in that department and pay the same wages and benefits. Under previous owners Community Health Systems, the dietary and housekeeping departments were contracted out, and Canada said the impact on wages and benefits is what drove him to want to unionize.
Workers also won language that requires employees to join the union if they get hired for a union position, a requirement Tower originally tried to fight, Canada said.
Tower Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Monday, Tower CEO Clint Matthews told the Philadelphia Business Journal: “This contract is a positive development for our patients, the hospital, and the Chestnut Hill community."