Living wage backers check into St. Pat's 

While much of Missoula’s media had their eyes and cameras focused on last week’s picture-perfect demolition of the old St. Patrick Hospital building, living wage advocates were kicking up a dust cloud of their own over the hospital’s latest request for nearly $2 million in public tax dollars to help fund their $51 million medical arts complex and parking facility slated for the West Broadway site.

Living wage advocates are calling on City Council members to forestall granting the hospital any of the urban renewal money already approved by the Missoula Redevelopment Agency until it can be determined that St. Patrick Hospital pays its workers a living wage.

At issue is an Oct. 26 letter sent to all hospital staff from St. Patrick Hospital President Larry White, urging them to vote against the “ill-conceived” living wage initiative and claiming that “St. Patrick Hospital pays more than $8.80 [in] wages and benefits to all full- and part-time employees.”

Some former and current employees took exception to that letter, sent a week before Election Day, and disputed White’s claim that all workers earn $8.80 in wages and benefits. They urged the council to get written assurances from the city’s second-largest employer that it will live up to the city’s “Resolution Defining Exemplary Economic Citizenship” passed by the council in February, calling on businesses that receive city tax dollars to pay workers a living wage. Advocates are also seeking written assurances that St. Pat’s recognizes its workers’ right to organize for collective bargaining purposes.

For his part, White states in his letter that “St. Patrick Hospital supports and practices the concepts embodied in the Living Wage Initiative,” but says he opposed the initiative itself (which was defeated by voters on Nov. 2), because he felt that its public disclosure requirement would violate the privacy of the hospital’s 1,323 employees by making public their names, addresses, salaries and benefits. In an interview, White continues to stand by his claim that the hospital pays a livable wage.

“Could you go over [to the hospital] and find people who disagree with that? Yeah, you could, because they don’t know the value of our benefits package,” White says, adding that he has no interest whatsoever in signing an agreement to that effect. Moreover, he described the living wage definition as spelled out in the failed ordinance as “frivolous.”

The St. Pat’s urban renewal project, which includes, among other things, public riverfront trail easements granted to the city, was referred back to City Council’s Administration and Finance committee by Councilmember Jim McGrath, where it will likely sit for several weeks before further action is taken.

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