It was Veterans Day, and Paul Griffin was marching on the sidewalk of State Road 54 outside the Medical Center of Trinity, which is anticipating an opening by the end of this year.
Griffin is the night maintenance technician at Community Hospital and has worked there for 21 years. New Port Richey-based Community Hospital is moving most of its services into the Medical Center of Trinity. HCA owns both the old hospital and its replacment in Trinity.
The union that represents local hospital support staff convened the “informational picket” to let the community know its complaints about wage increases that aren’t high enough and a base pay cap that is affecting older workers.
“We’re looking to keep fair wages for what we do,” Griffin said.
Griffin, who said he was a veteran, marched at the head of a group of about 30 support staff from either Community Hospital or other HCA hospitals. They waved flags or held signs, and they were eventually joined by Occupy New Port Richey members.
1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East represents hospital support staff, such as technicians, secretaries, and CNAs. It has been negotiating new contracts, with salaries a part of the process, with Community Hospital since April, said Leah Barber-Heinz, spokeswoman for the union.
She added after the event that last Friday's picket was aimed specifically at Community and Oak Hill hospitals. However, the union is negotiating contracts with 19 HCA hospitals total.
Hospital executives had at one point proposed a 2 percent increase in wages for frontline healthcare givers, according to Barber-Heinz. Because of the base pay cap, some older workers have gone without raises to their salary for years, Barber-Heinz said.
Some executives at HCA, a nationwide corporation, received 200 percent wage increases between 2009 and 2010, according to SEIU.
The Medical Center of Trinity had planned a Veterans Day ceremony, and the picket ended before it.
“We have worked hard to be the hospital of choice for our community and the employer of choice for our staff,” said Medical Center of Trinity/Community Hospital spokeswoman Mary Sommise.
“It is extremely disappointing that the 1199SEIU union chose to picket our new hospital site on a day we set aside to honor the veterans who served our country, putting their lives at risk so that we can continue to enjoy the rights and freedom that are so unique to Americans."
Griffin, a 50-year-old who lives in Port Richey, said the worker’s wages don’t pay for the current costs of living.
“If the American Dream is to continue, I believe we need to continue to fight for fairness of all to share in the prosperity of this nation,” Griffin said, reading from a prepared speech. “We cannot sit back and rest on the sacrifices of those who fought and died for us in war to keep us free and allow our right to a safe and prosperous life to slip away.”
1199SEIU wasn’t the only union protesting HCA outside the new facility last week.
The Suncoast News reported that nurses at Community Hospital rallied at the same spot the day before, claiming that the nurse-patient ratio at Community Hospital was unsafe because because nurses were being assigned too many patients.
The National Nurses Organizing Committee-Florida, which is affilated with the National Nurses United union, helped organize the Thursday picket of about 50 people, according to the paper. Sommise told the paper the hospital was negotiating with the National Nurses Organizing Committee about a contract.