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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sacred Heart nurses win big with tentative agreement; members vote on ratification next week

Trixie Martin, left, and Lisa Morgan engage in a picket, organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UCFW) union, occurs with Sacred Heart nurses and staff outside of Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center on June 27. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

Nurses at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center say they got what they fought for after months of negotiations that nearly culminated in a strike earlier this month.

If nurses ratify next week a tentative agreement reached this week between their union and Providence, Sacred Heart nurses will see no changes to their earned illness time or paid time off, as well as receive a 10% wage increase over the next three years.

Full- and part-time nurses will also get a $2,100 bonus if and when the contract is ratified.

Negotiations between nurses represented by the Washington State Nurses Association and Providence lasted 14 months. At the close of 2019, three unions representing more than 13,000 workers at Providence hospitals statewide united in their potential strike efforts.

As the new year approached, negotiations moved slightly but not enough for the unions. In the first week of this year, the possibility of a strike loomed. Last-minute marathon negotiations proved fruitful, however, and it appears nurses at Sacred Heart will vote on a contract they are pleased with.

The new contract is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2022.

Stevie Lynne Krone, a nurse and WSNA bargaining team member, said morale on the floor is high and that members feel empowered.

“We were able to make history because we’ve never done this – have three unions working together. We were able to make history not only for ourselves but for the future,” Krone said. “The biggest thing I could stress we are feeling is for nurses and health care workers, both old and new, we basically are able to say that solidarity does work, and together we can make a difference.”

Last summer, negotiations centered on proposed changes Providence administrators wanted to make to employee paid time off and earned illness bank policies, including moving employees to a short-term disability plan. Providence has moved employees in several states to the new benefits plan, administrators told The Spokesman-Review.

WSNA members did not want those benefits altered or taken away, however, as it could have meant losing banked sick hours for long-time nurses. In the tentative agreement, current and new nurses at Sacred Heart will keep the old paid time off and earned illness bank plans they currently have.

“We are very proud to have been able to retain those benefits,” Anne Tan Piazza, WSNA senior director of strategic initiatives, said.

Providence officials did not want to comment on the tentative agreement until it had been ratified and instead referred to a statement released earlier this week.

“Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children’s Hospital is pleased to have reached tentative agreements with both the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW 21),” the Jan. 8 statement from Providence said.

“Represented caregivers will be voting on the proposed contracts next week,” the statement continued. “Some of our caregivers will be gathering this evening for a candlelight vigil, and we respect their right to do so. We are proud of the quality of the care we provide and we are proud of the national recognition Sacred Heart Medical Center has received for quality and safety.”

As negotiations dragged on with little movement last fall, a federal mediator joined the negotiations, but progress was still meager. In October, Sacred Heart nurses authorized a strike.

The new contract addresses staffing and workplace safety measures that union leaders also pushed for.

“The provisions we were able to get in the contract, we believe, will enhance and protect our nurses in the workplace,” Piazza said. “One of the cornerstones of that is to have the ability to have members serve on the workplace violence committee.”

The tentative agreement says four nurses selected by WSNA would sit on that committee at Sacred Heart. Bargaining unit nurses can also attend the hospital’s Nurse Staffing Committee, which develops nurse staffing plans for each unit and shift.

“We now have language that acknowledges a shared interest and commitment to providing quality care and ensures the well-being of nurses and patients,” Piazza said.

Health care workers represented by UFCW 21 at Sacred Heart and Holy Family Hospitals in Spokane have also reached tentative agreements with Providence officials. Once all UFCW 21 bargaining units have reached their tentative agreements, members will vote to ratify them too.

After months of wondering about a potential strike, there is a sense of relief and joy among nurses and health care workers now, Krone said. The marathon bargaining session that produced the tentative agreement went on for 33 hours, over nearly three days. Finally, around 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday, negotiators reached the agreement nurses will vote on next week. After the deal was reached, Providence executives came down to shake the bargaining team members hands, Krone recalled.

“It was an interesting way to end, because we could shake hands and give hugs and that was probably the first step in moving past this,” she said.

“I am so happy and thrilled, being at work today, people came up and said, ‘Thank you so much,’” Krone said. “The bargaining team gave up their life for this.”

Nurses will vote to ratify the tentative agreement next week on Jan. 16.

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.