A group of ten skilled workers at Community Medical Center in Missoula, Montana who won the right to collectively bargain through a union election held in August of 2013, ratified their first union contract on Thursday, March 13th.
The workers, now represented by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local #400 (IUOE), manage the maintenance of the heating & ventilation systems, electrical systems, and building maintenance at the facility as well as managing gas tanks related to patient care.
"They are highly-skilled, licensed, and dedicated long-term employees who have been left behind when it comes to fair compensation for their work. They have been making $80 to $90 a week less than others doing the same type of work at other medical facilities in Missoula," said Craig Davis, Missoula-area representative for the IUOE.
Tom Findlay, who has been working for Community Medical for twenty five years, said he chose union representation out of concern for, "a recent inability to create a safe and comfortable work environment".
"I asked for uniforms to be cotton because we work with steam. They have been giving us polyester uniforms because it's cheaper but polyester shrinks, then melts and burns the skin when its exposed to steam," said Mike Behner, who has ten years of employment at the facility. Mike said he chose union representation because, "management hasn't been listening."
Among the top issues in contract negotiations for the ten Operating Engineers that are covered by the new agreement, was establishing a grievance procedure that would allow workers to address safety concerns that mandates steps to achieve resolution. The facility has underground tunnels that workers crawl through - some up to 100 feet - to reach structures to perform maintenance. The workers also perform maintenance on exhaust fans and air conditoning units which require the engineers to perform work dangerously close to the edge of the roof.
Chris Cotten, who has been working at the Medical Center for four and a half years, said he voted for the union because, "The voices of employees didn't matter in decision-making and upkeep of preventive maintenance of the facility."
John Riordan, Butte representative for the IUOE who also worked on the contract negotiations which lasted seven months, said, "In the end the employer listened to workers and recognized their concerns, and their first contract is a great first step in developing a better relationship between labor and management, considerably better working conditions and a better operating facility."
Other employees at Community Medical Center are already represented by the Montana Nurses Association and American Federation of State, County, and Municial Employees (AFSCME).