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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Unions delay strike at Sacred Heart, Holy Family as negotiations progress overnight

Angela Scognamiglio rings a cowbell during a picket which was organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and Sacred Heart nurses and staff outside of Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center on June 27, 2019, in Spokane. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

About 13,000 nurses and other health care workers in Washington stepped back from a threatened strike on Friday after unions said hospitals agreed to some of their key demands.

The expected announcement that the unions would announce a strike at some of the largest hospitals in Washington, including Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital in Spokane, spurred an expedited round of negotiations that led the unions to decide early Friday to postpone a strike announcement.

On Thursday, the three unions said they were preparing to strike on Jan. 14 at 13 Providence hospitals across the state.

But in a news release Friday morning, the unions said “exploratory conversations overnight” had persuaded them to delay a possible strike.

“Providence Health Services has withdrawn proposals that would reduce paid time off and medical benefits and allow subcontracting,” a news release from Service Employees International Union Healthcare 1199NW said.

The three labor groups, the Washington State Nurses Association, SEIU 1199NW and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union 21, said they were committed to continuing negotiations.

Nurses at Sacred Heart are represented by WSNA, which canceled a news conference in Spokane on Friday morning. WSNA announced that the parties will go back to the bargaining table in the next few days.

WSNA said in a statement that after talks stalled in November and December, negotiations sparked by the decision to prepare for a strike “resulted in the most significant progress to date.”

UFCW 21 represents health care workers at both Sacred Heart and Holy Family hospitals. The union also will go back to the bargaining table with Providence officials, who say they are pleased that negotiations are being expedited in the coming days.

“We believe this is a positive step toward reaching the shared goal of mutually agreeable contract terms,” a statement released Friday afternoon from Providence said.

SEIU, which represents about 8,000 nurses and health care workers at several Swedish Medical Center hospitals in Western Washington, said in a statement that it is expecting an “imminent return to the bargaining table for marathon negotiating sessions.”

Swedish officials released a statement Friday afternoon confirming that both sides have agreed to “intensive negotiations through next week.” SEIU and Swedish officials will negotiate with a federal mediator.

“We believe this is a positive step toward reaching a mutually acceptable agreement constructively and in good faith. With this development, Swedish is optimistic that we can come to an agreement at the bargaining table,” a statement from Swedish officials said.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories 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.