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Hundreds picket outside Valley Hospital for new union contract

For the second time in recent months, more than a hundred picketers were outside Valley Hospital Medical Center Thursday demanding a fair contract for hospital support staff.

About 90 support staff at the medical center have been in contract negotiations since the end of 2016. They claim their wages have stagnated, and they fear a reduction of benefits could happen.

The workers are represented by Culinary Union 226 and comprise housekeepers, cooks, cashiers, kitchen workers and stewards at Valley Hospital, which is located across the street from the new UNLV Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine.

One picketing worker, Brandi McMorris, said she has worked the last 15 years at Valley Hospital as a floor stock — someone who brings foods and liquids to patients. She said she hasn’t had a wage increase for the last six years and feels her benefits are at risk of going away.

“I’m in the middle of trying to buy a house right now, and I’m scared I won’t be able to do it,” McMorris said.

The union said in a release the Valley Hospital members haven’t received a raise in six years and are striving to keep their union benefits, including a pension, health care and job security. The union accused Valley Hospital of union busting tactics such as firing five employees “who were leaders in their workplaces” and interfering with the Culinary Union’s access to workers, according to the union release.

Betty Williams worked at the hospital for 40 years in the environmental services department before she was fired because she said she was a leader at the hospital in getting a contract for union workers.

“We’ve been trying to get this negotiation done for years, and it keeps getting put off and put off and put off,” Williams said. “But it’s gonna take all of us to get a fair contract.”

The hospital, which has 328 beds, said that health care operations wouldn’t be interrupted due to the picket, according to a statement from Gretchen Papez, the director of public relations and media for the Valley Health System.

The hospital didn’t want to respond to questions, and the rest of the statement was almost identical to one the hospital provided in August when 250 union members picketed the hospital.

“We regret that the union has chosen to continue to periodically employ this confrontational tactic and has repeatedly distributed inaccurate or misleading information rather than working to resolve its concerns at the bargaining table,” the statement said.

“We will continue to engage in good faith negotiations. We are committed to reaching a durable and modern contract that reflects the needs of our operations, that supports the highest quality patient care, and provides opportunity and a rewarding, collegial workplace to for our Dietary and Environmental Services staff who are covered by this collective bargaining agreement.”

The secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Union, Ted Pappageorge, wasn’t swayed by this comment.

“I think after years without workers having a raise, this company has no ability to comment at all,” he said. “They need to put significant raises on the table to get their workers up to par with the rest of this community and to be able to deal with the cost of living.”

Several elected officials picketed with the workers Thursday, including Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom and newly elected Nevada Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar. Both were optimistic that a fair contract could be reached.

“(The Culinary Union) wants their workers to be treated fairly,” Segerblom said. “And when they jump into a fight, it’s a fight to the death, so they can’t think they’re gonna give up tomorrow.”

The workers will hold a strike authorization vote on Friday, with results expected to be announced later that day or on Saturday. A successful vote would mean the union workers could authorize a strike at any time in the future and walk off the job, although it doesn’t mean they would immediately stop going into work.

Contact Sean Hemmersmeier at shemmersmeier@reviewjournal.com. Follow @seanhemmers34 on Twitter.

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