Not Just Carpenters–How Healthcare Workers Joined the Northwest Carpenters Union
“This group should be commended for their work during this pandemic. These members have been on the front lines and have worked tirelessly to keep each other safe and their community safe.”
Nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains along Highway 12 is Morton, WA. Established in 1911 as a logging and mill town, Morton, with a population of about 1,200 people, boasts its own small hospital–Arbor Health.
It is the only hospital between Yakima, east of the mountains, and Centralia, along the Interstate 5 corridor. Arbor Health is a 25-bed, critical care access hospital that offers a 24-hour emergency department (one doctor, one nurse, and one technician), patient access services, diagnostic imaging of all kinds including mammography, wound care, pulmonary therapy, sleep lab, and more. Arbor has three rural clinics in the nearby towns of Mossyrock and Randle, and another in Morton. A fourth clinic, also in Morton, offers services in gynecology and other specialties.
Kitchen staff, admitting personnel, building maintenance and housekeeping staff make up the members of Arbor Health’s small but mighty union community along with Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), Medical Assistants (MAs) and staff in radiology, in the laboratory, and in respiratory therapy.
But becoming union workers didn’t happen overnight. Bill Little, a retired mill worker and member of LU 2767 recalled the story for us.
“In the early 90s, one of the hospital workers was talking with a neighbor about unionizing support staff at the hospital (then Morton General Hospital),” said Bill Little. “The nurses union could not represent them, so the hospital workers reached out to the only other union in town, the Carpenters Industrial Council (CIC) and Local Union 2767 that represented workers at the Alta Forest Products mill.”
Little, the newly elected President of Local 2767 in the early 1990s worked with an organizer from the CIC to move negotiations forward with the employer. In the summer of 1992 a contract was offered and ratified by the hospital workers and they became members of LU 2767.
Lifelong Morton resident and steward at the hospital, Brenda Demarest, says they have about 90 union members between the hospital and the four clinics.
“My dad was a worker and union member at the Tubafor (now Alta Forest Products) mill for over 40 years,” said Demarest. “When I was asked if I wanted to be a steward, I thought about my dad and how proud he was to be a union worker.
“I thought it was a good opportunity to help people,” Demarest continued. “I’ve been a steward for almost 4 years.”
Demarest is one of four stewards at Arbor and is the lead for patient access. “In patient access we are the first and last people patients see. We register patients for every department, manage the phones, take payments, verify insurance coverage, and discharge patients at the end of their stay.”
Demarest also interacts with the three other stewards. They are Cindy Chapman, who works in the billing department; Sue Dunaway, who represents the CNAs; and Paige Riggs, who represents the members in the four clinics.
“We usually have monthly meetings,” said Demarest, “but since COVID-19, that has not been possible.
“We work closely with Todd Gorham (Northwest Carpenters Union Representative) and Shannon Kelley (HR) to resolve little issues before they become big problems,” said Demarest. “We have a good group of people who work well together and are dedicated to our small communities.”
“I love the community here in East Lewis County,” said 15-year member Teresa Ashe. “You know the people you are serving.”
Ashe works in the lab at Arbor Health hospital. A former medic and fireman in North Puyallup, she has been in the medical field since June 1987. She is the lead Laboratory Assistant performing phlebotomy (blood draws), and teaching others phlebotomy, point of care testing and other lab procedures.
“I like being a union member and I feel like we are getting stronger,” Ashe continued. “Representative Todd Gorham has been great at explaining what the union does. Back when we were able to have in-person meetings, we had members attend who had never been to a meeting before.”
“I have worked with this unit at Arbor Health for seven years and we have built a strong core group of leaders,” said Todd Gorham, a Council representative of the Northwest Carpenters Union and the workers at Arbor Health. “They are dedicated and work hard to support the members. With the help of the stewards and building a relationship with the Human Resources department I believe we have met the needs of the membership. This group should be commended for their work during this pandemic. These members have been on the front lines and have worked tirelessly to keep each other safe and their community safe.”
Interested in becoming a steward on your job? Reach out to your Local Union Representative.