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My turn: Region already lags in hospital worker pay

Posted: Wednesday, May 11, 2005

I would like to discuss the new contract that is being proposed to Bartlett Regional Hospital employees for 2005. This contract will provide hospital employees with a 1 percent cost-of-living allowance in 2005, followed by an additional 1.1 percent for 2006 and 2007, at the same time increasing our health-care insurance premiums to more than double the current cost.

This proposal is ludicrous, destroys employees' morale and creates financial tension within families.

I am a conservative consumer and my contributing wages to my household barely meet the cost of living for a family of four. I experience anxiety at the thought of an unexpected financial hardship, such as the inability to set aside funds for the unexpected due to the cost of living (housing, food, health cost, transportation, entertainment) versus wages currently provided to BRH employees.

My current wages and health care costs, not to mention the proposed COLA with additional health care costs, are not even comparable to those in the Northwest. It is not rational or even realistic for BRH employees to survive in Juneau's economy based on BRH's proposal and wage scales. My concerns are supported by the following:

According to the Alaska Department & Workforce Web site, Southeast is lagging behind in wages for health-care support workers in Alaska and the Lower 48. Jobs currently posted with Pacific Medical Centers in Lynnwood, Wash., Providence Health System in Everett, Wash., and the Seattle area show that we are behind in our base wages. Compare an admitting representative, patient access or patient services representative's starting position with a base pay of $12.04 to $17.52 to Bartlett's patient-access services clerk's beginning wage at a flat rate of $13.78.

• As explained in Alaska Economic Trends, January 2005, in 1989, the average Alaska worker earned $29,420. By 2003, this had increased to $37,360. But this 27 percent increase in earnings actually translates to 13 percent decline in purchasing power as expressed in adjusted 2003 dollars. Under this example, it would have required $42,800 in 2003 to buy the same amount of goods and services as $29,420 did in 1989.

• According to "Juneau Economic Indicators," posted in October 2002, Juneau remains lagging in the United States and Alaska in indicators such as average wages. In addition, our cost of living is still high compared to the U.S. average as well as compared to the major cities of Alaska.

From 1999 to 2000, wages increased in the United States at a rate four times faster than that of Juneau. The cost of living in Juneau in 2002 is about 31 percent higher than the U.S. average. Health care, housing and utilities show the highest above-average costs.

Health-care costs increased from 61 to 65 percent above the U.S. average from 2001 to 2002, with housing and utilities each increasing by about 10 percentage points.

• According to Alaska.com, Juneau and Anchorage have Alaska's most expensive average home price. Juneau also tops the state in rent costs for a three-bedroom single-family house and a two-bedroom apartment.

• According to the American Chamber of Commerce Researchers Associated (printed in the Juneau Empire 12/26/04), if you're moving from Anchorage to Juneau, you will need an increased income of 9.7 percent after taxes to maintain your present lifestyle.

Could someone please define COLA? I thought a COLA was across the board an equal increase for every individual; when did senior leadership's doctor's visits, and grocers cost more than mine?

As an employee of this hospital, I would like to ask Bartlett Regional Hospital administration and the board to review my research. Listen to the employees of this hospital, and reconsider a rate of pay, COLA and an insurance plan that will retain its valued employees.

• Bonnie Gee is a Juneau resident and employee of Bartlett Regional Hospital.



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