Interfaith Worker Justice of East Tennessee supports healthcare workers

From The Oak Ridger:

by Interfaith Worker Justice of East Tennessee

On a recent Sunday afternoon, about 200 nurses, technicians and support personnel of Methodist Medical Center stood outside in a driving rainstorm for about two hours advocating for a balanced and fair contract with the hospital’s management.

Interfaith Worker Justice of East Tennessee, an interfaith and interdenominational coalition devoted to building just and effective relationships among workers and employers, was proud to stand with these dedicated employees, rain notwithstanding, in their fight for a new contract. We believe that achieving human dignity, individual worth, and economic justice in the workplace reflects the core of our respective faith traditions.

The Methodist Medical Center has achieved a well-earned reputation as an essential and highly valued component of the Oak Ridge and East Tennessee communities. It is ranked as a hospital of recognized excellence, not only because of its outstanding medical staff, but just as importantly because of its skilled and caring healthcare professionals who are deeply committed to providing safe and quality care to every patient.

We are deeply concerned that the foundation on which this reputation has been built over the decades is now threatened, and we find ourselves with no alternative but to speak out.

What are the core issues at stake in the ongoing contract negotiations between Methodist Medical Center management and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)?

‒ Maintaining safe levels of staffing and predictable scheduling is a vital part of preserving the existing level of safety and care. A shortage of staff inevitably leads to excessive overtime and this, in turn, translates into fatigue, lower morale and personal stress. MMC health professionals in all job classifications have demonstrated repeatedly their willingness to go the extra mile in behalf of patients. Management has an equal obligation to create and implement a work environment, including work rules, that fosters and enhances these attitudes of commitment and service.

‒ Creating a two-tier wage system that penalizes newly-hired RNs, LPNs, and food service workers is a further threat to employee effectiveness and commitment. Penalizing highly-trained technical personnel with a lower hourly wage and no premium pay for being proficient across multiple technical areas further endangers excellence of care.

‒ A hallmark of successful healthcare centers is investment in the continuing education of its employees. To cut back on such opportunities, as is presently being proposed, not only erodes a positive work environment, but also sends a message of disinterest in maintaining, and enhancing, MMC’s reputation as a first-class medical institution. This proposal is profoundly short-sighted and ill-advised.

‒ We can only reiterate the critical place MMC occupies in the Oak Ridge community, how it has been blessed through the years with exceptional healthcare workers, and how it is the sacred obligation of both management and workers to guarantee a positive, fair and just resolution of current contract issues.

Good faith bargaining is the pathway to achieving this objective.


Rev. Jake Morrill, Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church

V. Tupper Morehead, M.D., M.Div., FACOG, The Episcopal Church, Norris

Rev. Dr. Harold A. Middlebrook, Canaan Baptist Church of Christ

Rev. Dixie Lea Petrey, Baptist Minister of the Gospel

Rev. John Gill. Senior Pastor, Church of the Savior, United Church of Christ

Rev. Tim Kobler, United Methodist Church, University of Tennessee

Rev. Ann Owens Brunger, United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A

Dr. David Linge, St. James Episcopal Church

Rev. Dr. Gordon Gibson, Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church

John Stewart, Church of the Savior, United Church of Christ

Rev. James Scott Sessions, United Methodist Church

Rev. Ralph Hutchison, United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

Travis Donoho

Rev. Dwyn Mounger, United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

Read more from The Oak Ridger