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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane MultiCare hospital workers rally as contract negotiations stall

Health care workers gather Wednesday outside MultiCare Deaconess Hospital in Spokane for an informational picket and rally to call on MultiCare management to listen to frontline caregivers.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Nurses and other workers at Deaconess and Spokane Valley hospitals held rallies Wednesday after months of negotiating for a new contract with minimal progress.

Workers at both MultiCare hospitals say they are advocating for competitive wages to prevent staff from leaving to work at neighboring hospitals, like Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center or Providence Holy Family Hospital.

“We are stuck on competitive wages that will retain staff,” said Zach Arnold, a nursing assistant at Deaconess and bargaining member. “We’re losing a lot of staff to other hospitals.”

The 1,300 nurses, nursing assistants and health techs, as well as housekeepers and food services staff, at Spokane’s MultiCare hospitals are represented by SEIU Healthcare 1199NW.

The bargaining team is also asking for adequate staff-patient ratios to enable caregivers to take adequate breaks and keep patients well-taken care of.

Last fall, a majority of union members voted to postpone contract negotiations for another year, extending their contract due to the pandemic. Arnold said MultiCare opted to open contract negotiations instead, which have been ongoing since November.

MultiCare and union members say some progress has been made in recent sessions, and the two parties will head back to the bargaining table in June with two scheduled sessions.

“We remain committed to bargaining in good faith with the goal of reaching a fair contract that supports safe, equitable and sustainable delivery of health care for staff, patients and the community we serve,” Greg Repetti, president of MultiCare Deaconess and Valley hospitals, said in a statement.

The June sessions will include the assistance of a federal mediator.

Workers putting in overtime and still working with COVID-19 protocols a year later expressed a desire for their employer to have their backs.

“We have a great staff and hospital; they love what they do,” said Arnold, who has worked at Deaconess for a decade. “They’re not asking to be called heroes; they just want to do their jobs safely.”

Union leaders believe MultiCare can afford raising wages at the two hospitals.

“We’re not asking to be paid more than the people down the street; we want to be paid as much,” said Jane Hopkins, executive vice president at SEIU Healthcare 1199NW.

Hopkins said she believes it is the union’s role to raise the bar and standards for workers at the hospitals who have worked through an entire pandemic.

“What makes it different this time is knowing they’re putting their lives and families at risk,” she 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.