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Detroit Medical Center service workers seek new contract, decry "penny-pinching"

Jan 21, 2018

Credit Detroit Medical Center / Detroit Medical Center

The Detroit Medical Center is still trying to reach a new contract with some unionized workers at its five Detroit hospitals, after service and maintenance workers overwhelmingly rejected a tentative contract agreement earlier this month.

Those workers, who range from janitorial staff to equipment technicians, say the first deal offered by the DMC’s for-profit owner, Tenet Health Care, was simply “inadequate.”

“They want to give us about a 30-cent wage increase, and yet they’re increasing our insurance premiums anywhere from 24-39%. And so basically, we’re just falling backward,” said Donna Stern, a Children’s Hospital of Michigan employee and a unit chair with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 140.

The DMC workers are represented by four union locals under AFSCME or the Service Employees International Union. They have a joint contract, and union leadership signed off on the tentative deal rejected by rank-and-file workers.

Some union factions, led by Stern, also accuse Tenet of “penny-pinching” to make up for some recent scandals.

In 2016, Tenet was ordered to pay the federal government more than a half-billion dollars in fines stemming from a Medicaid kickback scheme.

And in 2016, the DMC was rocked by a series of Detroit News stories that revealed chronic problems with dirty medical equipment and poor sterilization across the Detroit hospitals. The DMC says it’s subsequently passed state inspections, and the problems have been resolved.

But Tenet has continued to cut DMC staff. Stern and some other DMC employees say Tenet has “cut staffing to the bone across the board,” resulting in exhausted workers and jeopardizing quality of care.

“[Tenet] is essentially trying to make up for the profits lost by cutting workers’ wages and benefits, and cutting back on patient care,” Stern said.

Another DMC hospital, Huron Valley-Sinai in Commerce Township, is being sued by nurses who say low staff-to-patient ratios are putting patients there in danger.

In a statement, the DMC says “the parties are in continuing negotiations" with the Detroit service workers.

“We remain focused on reaching an appropriate collective bargaining agreement, and we will not allow inflammatory and inaccurate statements and allegations from any individual to distract us from these efforts or our commitment to delivering high-quality, patient-centered care to the communities we serve,” the statement said.