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UPW contract with hospitals is ratified

Terms not disclosed by either union or Maui Health System

Maui Memorial Medical Center is one of the three Maui County hospitals operated by Maui Health System. A contract between the United Public Workers union and the Kaiser Permanente affiliate has been ratified. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Maui Health System, which runs Maui Memorial Medical Center and Kula and Lanai Community hospitals, confirmed Monday that a labor agreement has been ratified by the United Public Workers union, which has more than 470 members at the three hospitals.

The terms of the contract were not released. A union worker, who was not pleased with the contract, said members sought higher and retroactive pay and parity with other Kaiser Permanente unions.

The ratification brings long-awaited closure to labor agreements for Maui Health System, an affiliate of Kaiser. Maui Health System took over management of the hospitals from the quasi-public Hawaii Health Systems Corp. on July 1, 2017.

The state sought privatization to stem skyrocketing costs and to improve patient care. The change also meant that government workers became private-sector employees of Maui Health System.

In August 2018, the other union representing hospital workers, the Hawaii Government Employees Association, ratified a contract with Maui Health System. HGEA represented nurses at the three hospitals.

The contract was negotiated by HGEA and the United Nurses Association of California/Union of Health Care Professionals. Since then, UNAC/UHCP has taken over representation of the Maui Region workers formerly represented by HGEA.

Lisa Paulson, director of strategic communications for Maui Health System, said in an email Monday that UPW ratified its contract Saturday. She said there are 473 regular full-time and part-time UPW members; they include maintenance, food service and laundry services workers.

UPW State Director Dayton Nakanelua was off-island on a business trip this week, according to the union office, and could not be reached for comment Monday. Nakanelua was the only one who could make a statement to the media, a union staffer said.

Michael Rembis, CEO and hospital administrator said, he was “very pleased” that the contract was ratified. “We look forward to continuing a positive partnership in providing care and services for our community,” he said.

At times, the relationship between UPW and Maui Health System has been rocky. UPW took out several full-page advertisements in The Maui News beginning in August, criticizing the way Maui County hospitals were being managed.

Rembis said then that he was “surprised” to see those advertisements and that Maui Health System was “negotiating in good faith and have been good partners.”

Maui Health System took out advertisements in response, promoting the hospital and its workers.

While Maui Health System and union were mum on the terms of the contract, some workers were unhappy with the contract and process.

Rasa Priya Thom, who has worked at the hospital for more than 30 years, said UPW members expected to receive retroactive pay for the two years it took to hammer out a contract.

The respiratory therapist said each member will receive $1,000. But this was less than the nurses received in retroactive pay, he said adding that his wife is a nurse.

“We were also expecting to see our retro (retroactive pay) in the same fashion,” Thom said.

“What was presented to Kaiser (by the union) was nothing like what we submitted” for consideration, he said.

Thom said that pay scale is something the union and Maui Health could work on in the future. A bright spot was the adding of seniority provisions to the contract.

The process left a bad taste for Thom.

“Many of the employees walked away feeling disappointed and uncertain of their future” after a meeting Thursday between UPW officials and members, he said.

He said rather than a meeting on contract ratification and an exchange of ideas and concerns it was more of a “good ol’ boy sales pitch.”

Thom was never able to cast a vote on the contract.

He was called away to an emergency at the hospital and wanted to cast his vote before he left the meeting Thursday. He was told that he could not vote unless he sat through the meeting.

Absentee votes counted as “yes” votes, instead of being neutral, he said.

“Don’t be fooled by full page ads by UPW when they use scare tactics to try and pressure Kaiser into contracts,” Thom said in an email. “UPW is also guilty of ‘big business’ mentality.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.