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Union, Cleveland's Lutheran Hospital reach labor deal, including wage increases, paid parental leave

Brian Higgins, grievance chair of the SEIU District 1199 executive board, speaks with other union members outside Lutheran Hospital on Aug. 22, 2023.
Ygal Kaufman
Ideastream Public Media
Brian Higgins, grievance chair of the SEIU District 1199 executive board, speaks with other union members outside Lutheran Hospital Aug. 22, 2023.

The union representing transportation, maintenance and nursing support workers at Cleveland Clinic’s Lutheran Hospital on Cleveland’s West Side and hospital management reached a new labor agreement just hours before a strike was set to begin Labor Day. Both sides are lauding the agreement as a win for workers and patients as they look to repair relationships damaged during the months-long negotiations.

"The union and the hospital are proud that the new agreement provides fair benefits and greatly improved wages for union members, while allowing the hospital to continue to provide excellent care to the community," the sides wrote in a joint statement released shortly after the agreement was reached.

The new three-year agreement came after more than 20 meetings to negotiate terms since the last collective bargaining agreement expired at the end of April.

SEIU had threatened a strike beginning on Labor Day, Sept. 4, hand delivering notice of the pending strike to hospital president Dr. Timothy Barnett on Aug. 22.

Negotiations began to pick up momentum after the notice was delivered and the National Labor Relations Board issued a decision on Aug. 22 certifying the February election approving union representation at Lutheran, said the union district director Vanessa Dalesandro.

"That's when conversations really started to change," she said.

Union members had sought equity with the benefits and opportunities already offered to nonunion employees, Dalesandro said. For example, SEIU wanted paid parental leave, short-term disability insurance paid for by the hospital, a retirement account match and the right to be called “caregivers” like nonunion members.

The new agreement provides these benefits and more, she said.

"Everything that we had put on the table or that was a priority for union caregivers, we were able to achieve all of those changes," Dalesandro said. “It really is a major victory. It's a great reminder of the power of labor as we're coming out of Labor Day.”

She said the union workers receive wage increases with an average 15.4% increase the first year of the agreement, a 4% increase the second year and a 3% increase the third year. The agreement also doubles the number of members eligible for longevity pay, which is based on years of service to the hospital, while also increasing the longevity pay rate.

The agreement also provides for additional worker rights and protections, according to the union. Those additional rights include automatic union representation within 72 hours of a disciplinary hearing and the right to make presentations about union membership during new employee orientation, Dalesandro said.

Now that an agreement is in place, Dalesandro said she hopes this is the beginning of a better relationship between the sides.

"We want at some point ... to have labor peace, and we're willing to do that, will make the effort to do that," she said. "We hope that the hospital feels the same way. They've expressed that they do. And so we'll see what happens."

To date, SEIU said it had filed more than two dozen unfair labor practice charges against the hospital for issues such as failure to bargain in good faith, refusing to provide information, retaliation, harassment and discrimination against union members and intimidation and interfering with union member rights.

Stephen Langel is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media's engaged journalism team.