Union healthcare workers and others from area unions hosted a community picnic in Scranton to spur discussion on how we can improve healthcare delivery and access in Northeast Pennsylvania
Hundreds of NEPA residents turned out Saturday for the “NEPA Community re-Union Picnic” — a day of food, fun, and games hosted by union hospital workers with SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania and workers from the Pennsylvania Joint Board of Workers’ United, SEIU. In addition to fostering fellowship, the goal of the event was to spur discussion in the NEPA community about how residents and healthcare workers can hold hospitals accountable for delivering the care their community deserves.
“Right now, at Regional Hospital of Scranton, we’re working from the inside to improve things,” said Monta Cook. who emceed Saturday’s event. Cook works in Housekeeping/Environmental Services at the hospital and serves on the union negotiating committee. “We’re negotiating a new contract and our goal is to make sure that we’ve got enough staff and that we’re hiring the best people to care for our patients.”
“But we can only do so much with a contract,” Cook continued. “That’s why we’re joining with other healthcare workers and our sisters and brothers at Workers United to have this conversation in the community. We need to build bridges. We need to build a movement.”
“I believe that healthcare is a right, not a privilege, and so do a lot of us here today,” said Paula West, a medical technologist with more than 30 years at RHS. “That’s why we’ve made affordable access to healthcare a key goal of this
movement. We can’t keep turning away our neighbors and our friends in need of care. We can’t keep asking them to go into debt just to get the care they need for themselves or their families.”
Also joining the discussion were legislators from both Harrisburg and Washington. State representatives Bridgett M. Kosierowski and Maureen Madden turned up to voice their support as did Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey and California Congressman Ro Khanna.
“Healthcare should not be a privilege bestowed upon a certain population that can afford it,” said State Rep. Kosierowski. “Healthcare is a basic human right. No one in the world, let alone in America, should have to lose their life because they did not have access to proper affordable healthcare. The fight to provide healthcare to everyone is not some radical idea but just simply a decent and proper act of humanity”
Healthcare workers and advocates expressed concern that while NEPA-area hospitals own billions of dollars in assets, they are failing to properly invest in facilities, equipment. and front-line caregivers. Hospital workers tell stories of coworkers who have left the healthcare industry to work in fast food or retail for better pay.
“All Pennsylvanians have a right to affordable, good quality healthcare,” said State Rep. Maureen Madden. “All healthcare workers deserve a wage that reflects the dignity of their work. At the end of the week, healthcare workers ought to be able to take care of their families.”
Union members with SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania are often at the forefront of advocating for their communities
“The SEIU fights every single day to advocate on behalf of workers and improve the lives of families,’ said Sen. Casey. “Few areas are more emblematic of this fight than the work being done by SEIU to protect the healthcare coverage of millions of Americans as this Administration and Congressional Republicans try to rip it away. Our nation owes SEIU and all of organized labor, which built the middle class, an enduring debt of gratitude for the work they have done to further the cause of justice.”
Saturday’s event was a follow up to a healthcare discussion roundtable held in Taylor, Pa, on May 30.