Nurses and other health care workers at several Providence hospitals across the state say they do not want to go on strike, but as contract negotiations run into the new year, strike preparations continue with three separate unions coordinating their efforts.
In early December, three unions that represent nurses and other health care workers at Providence hospitals statewide – SEIU 1199NW, UFCW 21 and the Washington State Nurses Association – made a unity commitment after all unions have authorized strikes and still find themselves at the negotiating tables. Different union chapters are bargaining for different elements, depending on the hospital and the contract.
Together, the three unions represent 13,000 workers at Providence locations, including Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital in Spokane.
Nurses and other health care workers represented by SEIU Healthcare 1199NW at seven Swedish Medical Center locations in the Seattle area did not reach an agreement with Providence officials on Monday, leaving open the possibility of a statewide strike in the new year. Providence Health and Services owns Swedish-affiliated hospitals and clinics.
SEIU Healthcare 1199NW represents about 8,000 nurses and other health care workers at Swedish hospitals and ambulatory care centers on the west side of the state. Safe staffing is at the core of their negotiations with Providence-Swedish officials, Amy Clark, communications director with SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, said.
“Workers at Swedish believe that the staffing levels are not adequate to provide the kind of care they want to be able to provide patients,” Clark said. “They want to see a stronger effort from Swedish to recruit and retain caregivers.”
Clark said SEIU members at Swedish locations report colleagues and coworkers leaving due to staffing levels. Swedish officials acknowledged staffing as one of their main concerns, too.
“A significant shortage of qualified health care professionals has impacted providers across the country and Swedish is no exception with more than 900 open union-represented positions,” a statement from Swedish officials said. “To address this shortage, Swedish is proposing to partner directly with SEIU to convene an intensive series of discussions in January 2020 focused on recruiting and retaining qualified candidates and building the current workforce through professional development pathways.”
SEIU members are also negotiating wages and benefits. The SEIU bargaining unit has not set a concrete date for negotiations in the new year but plans to look for more dates, Clark said.
“The workers don’t want to strike; they don’t want to not be there to care for their patients,” Clark said.
In Spokane, nurses at Sacred Heart Medical Center represented by WSNA as well as other health care workers at Sacred Heart and Holy Family Hospital represented by UFCW 21 all authorized a strike in late October. Negotiations have been ongoing between the unions and Providence officials, with little movement. Nurses and Providence officials had their last negotiation on Dec. 11.
Nurses at Sacred Heart are pushing for no changes to their extended illness time and increased staffing. In their most recent negotiation, Providence officials proposed that current nurses could keep their extended illness time, as well as grandfathering current nurses into the paid time off plan, a statement from Providence said. WSNA is pushing for these benefits for new hires, however.
“Providence’s proposals still eliminate all EIT benefits for new hires and prevent current nurses from accruing any additional EIT hours. Our resolve to continue fighting for ALL nurses has not wavered,” a news release from WSNA on Dec. 11 said.
Nurses at Sacred Heart have set another negotiation date with a federal mediator for Jan. 6 with Providence officials.
UFCW 21 workers at Sacred Heart and Holy Family Hospital, along with nurses and other health care workers represented by UFCW 21 throughout the state at Providence-affiliated hospitals, are still in negotiations as well. For the first time, all the UFCW 21 bargaining units at Providence hospitals throughout the state are bargaining together, with a federal mediator. The next session is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 2.
There are about 4,000 nurses and health care workers represented by UFCW 21 at Providence locations throughout the state, with about 1,600 workers at Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital.
Staffing and safety concerns are the primary concerns of UFCW 21 members, Tom Geiger, special projects director for the union, said.
The nurses and other health care workers that UFCW 21 represents have indicated they would prefer not to strike, Geiger said.
“However, they feel that Providence has put them into a place where to resolve these fundamental challenges that threaten patient care and safety, they feel compelled to go on strike,” Geiger said.
Strike preparations continue in the event that negotiations do not lead to workable contracts for all three unions, which could mean a 13,000-worker statewide strike.
Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.
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