Healthcare Workers Will Hold Public Action Calling on Aspirus to Value and Respect Their Sacrifices

Workers struggle to survive on low wages and now Aspirus wants to raise their healthcare costs and make deep cuts–Meanwhile the corporation raked in huge profits and taxpayer bailouts, and the CEO made over $1.3 million

What: Workers in scrubs will be holding a banner and signs saying “Aspirus Should Value Healthcare Workers” at a busy intersection to raise public awareness. Workers will be available for interviews.

When: Monday, May 3 at 4:30 pm

Where: 8th Street & East Riverview Expressway, Wisconsin Rapids

Wisconsin Rapids, WI– On Monday, May 3, healthcare workers and their families will gather at a busy intersection holding a large banner and signs that declare “Aspirus Should Value Healthcare Workers.” The public action is geared toward raising awareness in the community about Aspirus’s proposals to significantly increase healthcare costs for frontline workers and make other cuts, while the corporation has raked in massive profits and taxpayer bailouts, and compensated the CEO with over $1.3 million.

During the pandemic, Aspirus workers have been risking their lives and their families’ lives to provide quality, compassionate care to their community, and many were infected by COVID. They say that Aspirus’s actions reflect one of the most destructive trends in America–lavishly rewarding top executives while essential workers struggle to survive–and are contrary to Wisconsin values.

“I’ve cared for COVID patients at Aspirus Riverview Hospital throughout the pandemic, and got deathly sick with the virus myself,” said Heather Michels, a certified nursing assistant who has eight years of service at the hospital, and over two decades of experience as a healthcare professional. “This has been the most terrifying time of my career. Despite all my sacrifices, Aspirus only pays me $15.26 an hour, and they want to increase employees’ health insurance costs and make other cuts. Working through this health crisis has been especially scary as I have a daughter who is immuno-compromised and an infant son. When I got sick, I had to send them away to live with family, because my oxygen levels dropped dangerously low, I developed pneumonia and could barely get out of bed. Many of my co-workers at Aspirus were also infected by COVID, but we’ve remained loyal and stuck with the hospital because we pride ourselves on giving the best care to our community. Aspirus should acknowledge the loyalty and hard work of frontline healthcare workers.

While essential workers are struggling, Aspirus had huge profits of more than $184 million for the fiscal year ending last June, and Riverview’s profits were over $22 million for the same period. Many Aspirus executives were working from the safety of their homes or offices, rather than on the front lines, but earning large pay packages at the “non-profit.” The CEO, Matt Heywood had total compensation of more than $1.3 million in 2019, the most recent year that IRS data is available. Through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Aspirus received more than $52 million in bailouts from taxpayers. Workers say they want to make sure that taxpayer dollars are going to patient care and the employees who actually work on the front lines, not just giant executive pay packages.

“When people ask me what I do for work I tell them, ‘I save lives every single day,’ because as an environmental services specialist, I clean and disinfect Aspirus Riverview Hospital to keep patients safe,” said Sarah Vonloh, who has 29 years of service at the hospital. “Working during the pandemic has really taken a physical and mental toll on myself and my coworkers, and we’re exhausted. Despite our important roles, we don’t feel like Aspirus executives understand or appreciate our work. After almost three decades, I still only make $15.89 an hour, and am forced to live paycheck to paycheck. I’m always scraping by, figuring out how to afford groceries, gas and all my bills. Meanwhile, Aspirus executives are getting big pay packages, even though they’re not on the front lines and in the patient rooms like we are. We’ve given so much to our hospital, working weekends and holidays throughout this health crisis. I feel like these shamefully low wages are immoral and a slap in the face to me, my coworkers, and all working families in our community.”

In recent union contract negotiations with nursing assistants, environmental service specialists, dietary workers and laundry workers who are members of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, Aspirus executives have demanded a range of cuts to compensation and benefits. Their proposals include significantly increasing the amount that employees pay for the Aspirus-run health plan. Executives have also demanded to cut medical leave; increase dental insurance costs; and even take away Christmas Eve holiday pay for many workers. Instead of rewarding employees with a decade or more of service, Aspirus is proposing just a one percent raise, which would not be implemented until December.

Recently an overwhelming majority of workers voted to reject Aspirus’s contract offer and signed onto a letter to CEO Matt Heywood calling on him to listen to their concerns. Workers expressed their fears that these drastic cuts could increase employee turnover and worsen understaffing in departments throughout the hospital. They pointed out that Aspirus’s own mission statement focuses on “strengthening communities,” but low wages and benefit cuts–while top executives get more and more wealthy–undermine working families throughout the community.

Workers earnestly hope that management will come to a fair agreement when they return to contract negotiations on May 5th. If not, employees vow to hold Asprirus executives accountable through increasing actions, advertising, social media and extensive outreach to community members, faith leaders, regulatory agencies and elected officials.

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