EL PASO, Texas - The University Medical Center Board of Trustees held its first 2017 budget meeting Wednesday.
A wide range of hospital employees were in attendance, including several caregivers with the Service Employees International Union of Texas.
The SEIU aims to "keep Texans healthy and our hospitals running efficiently." El Paso members are typically nurses, assistants and technicians for various hospitals around the city.
The caregivers presented their "quality care" plan during the meeting, which included several recommendations to ensure the long-term success of UMC and its employees.
They first emphasized the initiation of a health and safety committee, consisting of caregivers and management. SEIU says the committee will allow management and front-line employees to address health and safety issues like hospital-acquired infections.
Members also stressed the importance of open communication within the administration. The SEIU hopes this will create a more effective, good-willed dynamic.
Another concern is pay. According to employees there are still many jobs where UMC pay lags the market.
In a news release, SEIU said in 2016, UMC budgeted $6 million for salary adjustments. SEIU Texas proposes that in the fiscal year 2017, UMC use $1.5 million of the budget earmarked for salary adjustments to ensure competitive pay for jobs that still lag the market.
"The lack of competitive pay is a major problem in my department and across UMC," said Veronica Mrquez, a UMC employee.
The workers are currently partnering with the SEIU Texas union but they're not union members just yet.
UMC employees can unionize but since they work for the county they are considered a non-collective bargaining unit. Which means they can't negotiate hours, pay or even strike but they say joining a union can give them a voice
"Open communication is the key," said Marquez.
UMC employees like Veronica Marquez tell me unionizing can create a direct line of communication between employees and management.
County Judge Veronica Escobar says it can be a step forward for the hospital
"I'm very supportive. I think this particular union the represents workers who are many times at the bottom rung of the employment sector who need a voice," Escobar said. "Based on what I've heard from employees they are very interested in participating."
No action was taken by the board, but Chairman Stephen Degroat said he expects to discuss these topics in future meetings.