Back in the late 80’s up until 1998 I had worked for Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo. We were a unionized hospital and my earliest work experience had been as a union member. Everyone knew the rules. Everyone knew the pay scale and everyone knew when their next raise was going to happen and for how much. If there was ever a question, we referred to the contract. If there was something we needed to confront management about, it was in writing, so there was no argument. No one had to question as to whether they should talk to management, and it made the work environment much less hostile. In 1997, I got married and moved to the Lansing are and got a job as a surgical tech at Eaton Rapids Hospital which was a non-union hospital. I had to be on call at night and I was the only tech which meant I was basically “working” 24/7. One night I was called in to do an emergency appendectomy. We had a 1-hour response time from the time our beeper went off to the time we punched in. I called my manager to tell her that I was going to quickly finish eating my dinner and then I would be there. I punched in at the hospital in less than an hour, but the next day I was written up for making my manager nervous by making her think I wasn’t going to be there on time. When I said that wasn’t fair, that I had arrived within the allotted hour, I was told to sign the write up or look for another job. So, I signed it but quickly looked for another job.
Soon after, I started working for a private practice called Thoracic and Cardiovascular Institute or TCI. We were in the professional building next to McLaren, and I worked as a vascular ultrasound tech. Within the first couple of weeks, I had already gotten myself into some trouble and was pulled into managements office. Another employee, who had been working there for a year (who had the same job I had) complained to management because I was talking about my starting wages, which was $.50 more than where she started. I was told that TCI was an “at will” employer (which means they can fire you for any reason) and that we were not allowed to talk about our wages. So I shut up.
In 2007, I left TCI and started working as a surgical tech for McLaren Greater Lansing. I was once again union. Low senior on the totem pole but back in the comfort of knowing the rules. However, that was in 2008 when the recession hit and being the lowest senior, I was laid off, but as stated in the contract, I would be the first to be called back when they started expanding the schedule again. Instead, I found a job in a different department, once again as a vascular ultrasound tech. I worked as a per diem then finally landed a part time job in 2013. These were the same techs I worked with at TCI but the practice was reorganized and all of the diagnostic technicians (nuclear med, echocardiographer, vascular techs, treadmill/stress lab) were let go from the practice absorbed into the hospital. But when all of the other labs were absorbed into the hospital, they were told about the union because those departments already existed within the hospital and were union. The hospital did not previously have a Vascular Lab, so the subject wasnt brought up.
After about 5 years, and getting two $.25 raises, I started asking my coworkers why we weren’t union. They shrugged and said, “the subject never came up.”. I knew the hospital was a union hospital because I had worked in surgery and was in the union. The general ultrasound techs down the hall were union. The cardiac ultrasound techs were union. We were one of the only labs in the hospital that wasn’t unionized. I got my hands on a union contract from a different department and showed my coworkers the wage scale. Everyone in our lab was making about $5 an hour LESS than any of the other ultrasound techs who had been here several years less than we had.
I had 11 years of hospital seniority and my coworker Mellissa had 9 years. We made the same hourly rate. Megan had 8 years, patsy had 6 years, Shawna had 5 years and Kristina had 2 years. They all made the same hourly wage.
So we decided to join the union. This was extremely easy. I called the local 459 office and said, “We want to join.” and within 24 hours, Lance shows up and we all sign our union form. We were told by ALL levels of management that it was a bad idea. We were told that we wouldn’t get all the things we were demanding. We even had the CEO of McLaren Greater Lansing ask to have an official meeting with us, with all of the heads of HR. We sat in our break room eating our lunch while being asked “what good did we think would come out of this?” and “You’re only going to make things complicated for yourself.”. Undeterred, we stuck to our demands. It took the better part of a year, but we got everything we wanted, including HUGE raises. We decided to forfeit our back pay to be bumped up one extra year on the pay scale.
I was hired into the vascular lab $28 an hour. By 2018 I was making $28.95. 7 years and only received $.95 worth of raises. By the summer of 2019 I was making $31.82 an hour. Within a few months when my anniversary came up, I received a $.90 raise to $32.70. My last raise brought me up to $33.76 and in a few months, I will be making $34.61. I am on the lower end of the jump in hourly rate increase when we joined. One of our techs was making $24.95 and went up to $29.55.
I can talk about these numbers because it’s not a bad thing. We all know what everyone makes because ITS IN THE CONTRACT. Everyone knows when they are getting a raise, everyone knows their rights, no one is afraid anymore of getting fired for the smallest infraction and best of all, you’re never alone and you are always protected. You will always have representation. Even if you do something wrong, you will be treated fairly and the same as everyone else who has done something wrong.
If you ever have a question about something, check the contract or call your Steward.
Kerri Gallagher RVT
P.S. To answer managements above questions:
1. Joining did a lot of good.
2. It has made things much easier.
3. We received everything we asked for.
4. And for the first time, we don’t feel like the red headed step children of McLaren.