Declining patient volume due to the economic crisis forced workers at MetroHealth to accept some concessions in a new three-year contract that was ratified Feb. 12.
"People are forgoing elective procedures and preventive care," said Julie Albers, president of AFSCME Local 3360 at the hospital, which is largely funded by Cuyahoga County.
Previously, she said, private hospitals in the area, including Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals, encouraged patients on Medicare and Medicaid to use MetroHealth. But now, with so many people out of work and losing medical coverage, the private hospitals are competing for those with public health insurance.
MetroHealth has tried to save money by contracting out services but this has met with strong opposition from both community and labor. In the recent negotiations, the hospital pushed for privatizing laundry and transportation departments as well as removal of patient financial services from the bargaining unit.
"We absolutely refused to go along. That would have opened the door to further privatization," Albers said. The union's stand was seen as a victory by many in both the union and community who fear the management would like to completely privatize the last major public hospital in Ohio.
The new contract, covering nearly 2000 employees, includes paying 10 per cent of the cost of medical procedures that were previously fully covered. However, the rate charged to employees is discounted 70% so the actual cost is greatly reduced.
For example, a $1000 CT Scan would be discounted to $300 with the employee paying $30.
In addition, the union agreed to forgo a wage increase in the first year, with a 2.75% raise in the second year and 3% in the third year.
While no one was happy with the concessions, Albers said the alternative would have been going to a fact-finder and re-opening the possibility of privatization or else a strike.
"We did what we could under the circumstances," she said, "and we're here to fight another day when hopefully times get better."