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Sacred Heart nurses hold second rally as contract talks with Providence drag on

UPDATED: Thu., May 9, 2019

Amber Walker, center left, demonstrates alongside her mother, Yvonne Walker, near Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center on Thursday, May 9, 2019. Yvonne Walker has been a registered nurse at Sacred Heart for 19 years and works in the adult psychiatric unit. Sacred Heart nurses are demanding a more favorable union contract. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Amber Walker, center left, demonstrates alongside her mother, Yvonne Walker, near Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center on Thursday, May 9, 2019. Yvonne Walker has been a registered nurse at Sacred Heart for 19 years and works in the adult psychiatric unit. Sacred Heart nurses are demanding a more favorable union contract. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Nurses at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center held a second demonstration Thursday afternoon to keep pressure on the hospital system amid drawn-out contract negotiations.

Hundreds of nurses represented by the Washington State Nurses Association lined the intersection of McClellan Street and Eighth Avenue, making themselves heard with a cacophony of whistles and air horns.

“What do we want? A fair contract,” they chanted. “When do we want it? Now.”

The WSNA represents more than 17,000 nurses in the state, including more than 1,900 at Sacred Heart. Members of the union also demonstrated Thursday at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland.

Contract negotiations at Sacred Heart have dragged on for months. Nurses also held a rally in Riverfront Park in February. They have decried efforts by Providence to change their sick time benefits and have demanded wage increases and additional staff to ensure they can take mandatory rest breaks.

“We are very, very focused on nurses here, and we’re focused on having the best care for our patients,” said KT Raley-Jones, a nurse in the cardiac intensive care unit at Sacred Heart.

Providence has argued that soaring health care costs make it infeasible to meet the nurses’ demands.

“We don’t intend to comment on WSNA’s negotiation tactics,” Providence spokeswoman Liz DeRuyter said in a statement Thursday. “Instead, we encourage union leaders and caregivers to focus their efforts on productively reaching agreements at the bargaining table.”

In a statement on its website, Providence said the average full-time nurse at Sacred Heart makes more than $80,000 annually, and nurses have received, on average, a 5% salary increase in each of the past three years.

“Sacred Heart nurses are paid competitively, and their pay has been growing faster than health care reimbursement rates, which is a trend that cannot continue if we are to address affordability of health care services for our community,” Providence said.

Providence also said it’s seeking to “modernize” its benefits packages. The hospital system said that “under the new plans proposed for 2020, experienced nurses would be allowed up to 35 days – or a total of seven weeks – of paid time off annually to use for vacation, holidays and their own illness, or to care for a sick family member.”

Providence said it’s also offering new paid leave benefits, including plans for parental leave and short- and long-term disabilities.

A spokeswoman for the nurses union, Heather Weiner, called Providence’s statement misleading. In an email, she said the hospital system has proposed eliminating extended illness time, “which is an earned bank of time which protects nurses’ income when they are away from work caring for themselves or their family members.

“Nurses work long, grueling shifts and can’t provide the best possible patient care if they themselves are ill, injured or worried about a family member,” Weiner said.

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