Study slams Enloe
Many people who work at Enloe Medical Center are on public assistance, can’t afford health care and are paid wages “inferior” to comparable jobs in the region, says a study jointly released last week by an employee union and a local economics professor.
Workers at Enloe Medical Center held a press conference Dec. 15 and touted a “white paper” study by Chico State University Professor David Gallo that blamed Enloe’s employment practices for “contributing to the growth of the working poor.”
Enloe management countered that the study uses skewed figures to paint an inaccurate portrait of employee wages.
“The report is flawed from the very first page,” said Enloe spokesperson Ann Prater, calling the study the latest “campaign tactic” in SEIU United Healthcare Workers West desire to win employees for the union.
SEIU-UHW West is using the media and protesting at Enloe events as part of stepping up its efforts to get Enloe to bargain with employee groups that voted in April 2004 to be represented by the union, election results the hospital continues to challenge in court. Although the union characterizes its activities as a fight against Enloe, many of the employees actually work for the multinational corporation Compass, to which the hospital subcontracted housekeeping and food services in July 2003.
The study, which says Enloe is hurting the local economy to the tune of $428,710 per year by shifting health care burdens to taxpayers, included a survey that found that while the median hourly wages of those responding is $11.96 an hour, or $24,877 for full-timers, 1 in 4 said they earned less than $10 an hour and 1 in 10 earned less than $8 per hour. The median hourly wage in the Chico area is $12.96, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The survey, to which 106 employees represented by SEIU-UHW West responded, found that 1 in 4 employees have received “some form of income-based, taxpayer-funded government assistance while employed by Enloe.” Also, 1 in 6 full-timers responding has used Medi-Cal or Healthy Families “while working at Enloe.”
The study also compares entry-level wages at Enloe to that for similar positions at Mercy Medical Center’s hospitals in Redding and Mt. Shasta. For example, at Mercy, housekeepers start at $12.52 per hour, while at Enloe they can earn “as little as $7.50.” Certified Nurse Assistants can start at Mercy at $12.99 an hour, compared to $9.66 at Enloe.
“There’s quite a gap,” Gallo said.
Had the study compared average rather than starting wages, the gap would have been smaller, according to information made available to the News & Review by Mercy’s human resources department.
Prater said nonprofit Enloe pays workers wages comparable to the Chico-area market, and does the best it can without being a public-funded system or large corporation. The premise that Enloe contributes to the plight of the working poor is “grossly inaccurate,” she said.
The report states that employees must choose from two insurance plans costing $1,020 or $2,400 per year, but Prater said one plan is free, if workers stay within the Enloe system for care, except for in emergencies. Not only that, employees get nearly five weeks’ vacation their first year on the job, she said. And, she added, only one Enloe employee is on the books making less than $8 per hour—which means the survey results can’t be right.
The 13-page “white paper” profiles three employees who say they can’t afford Enloe’s health insurance premiums and have their children on government-subsidized plans.
At the press conference, CNA Ruth Lopez, a 10-year Enloe employee, said that even though she works a second job as a housekeeper, she doesn’t use her insurance unless it’s an emergency.
Nancy Hansen, a unit secretary who’s worked at Enloe for 13 years, said turnover is so high, “I’m really concerned about patient care.”
The event took place along Cohasset Road outside the office of Spelts Wealth Management as cars sped noisily by. (Mark Spelts, an Enloe board member and the target of irony-seeking union organizers, did not return the News & Review’s call for comment.)
Gallo said if anyone should be assuring good health benefits, it’s Chico’s hometown hospital. “They’re not doing a very good job in terms of setting a standard.”
Gallo added that he was not paid to perform the study, and took “the same objective approach” he would to any academic research. About 15 percent of the more than 700 workers given the survey responded, and “there was no attempt to urge any particular group to respond,” he said in a follow-up e-mail. The survey asked employees for “base hourly rate of pay (not including differentials).” (Extra money is paid Enloe workers for night and weekend shifts.)
In July, Enloe produced its own document claiming that on average, Enloe employees are comparatively well-paid. Specifically, Certified Nurses Assistants average $14.04 an hour; lab assistants, medical records clerks and monitor technicians earn $15.50 and unit secretaries make $14.75.
A month later, Compass reported that its wage average at Enloe is $10.94 per hour, and it had offered the union increases of 3.7 percent each year for three years.
Andy Holcombe, an attorney and Chico City Councilmember who stressed that he was not speaking on behalf of the city, said, “As a responsible employer, Enloe should be at the bargaining table. … Move forward in the spirit of cooperation with its workers and the community instead of being antagonistic and trying to drag this out in the courts.”
Prater said Enloe leaders are convinced the close election was unfair, including invalid ballots. “It was with great consideration that we made the decision to hold the course on this.”