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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Providence Sacred Heart tech workers to strike next week, hospital hires temporary workers to stay open

Crews work to update signage at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Children’s Hospital in March in Spokane.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center’s technical workers have submitted notice to strike beginning next Monday as contract negotiations stall.

The weeklong strike will take place from April 22-30, should a deal not be reached before next week. Represented by United Food and Commercial Workers 3000, the union makes up approximately 500 Sacred Heart employees such as surgery and pharmacy technicians.

“As an extension of our voices, we used our votes to reject the present contract offered by Providence and to authorize a strike, signaling it is time for Providence to hear us and find solutions to combat short staffing and retain experienced staff. We are a part of this community, and we will continue to fight to keep our community safe and healthy,” the union bargaining team said in a news release.

Bargaining team member and Sacred Heart surgical tech Angela Holmes said the union is just trying to get a contract with wages and benefits competitive to the region.

“We need wages that will allow us to recruit talented new young individuals. Staff levels being as short as they are, it’s really affecting some of my team members’ ability to spend time with our family. We spend more time on call and at the hospital than they do at home,” Holmes said.

If the strike moves forward, Providence officials say they will hire other workers so hospital operations are not disrupted.

“The hospital is well prepared for the strike and assures patients and the community that we will remain open with all services continuing. Our community can expect to receive the safe, high-quality care they’ve come to know Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center for. The hospital will maintain its daily operations and has contracted replacement workers for members of the bargaining unit who choose to strike,” Providence said in a statement.

The hospital system also said it offered workers “significant wage increases and contract enhancements” in the offer rejected by the union. Holmes countered that Providence’s offer was “not market competitive” to other nearby hospitals.

The Sacred Heart work stoppage is an “unfair labor practice strike,” meaning the primary purpose is not to achieve more economic concessions but as a protest to allegedly illegal actions taken by the employer to undermine the ability for workers to organize or negotiate as a union.

Ann Minard, union spokesperson, said several unfair labor practice violations have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency that adjudicates labor disputes. The board receives 20,000-30,000 of these allegations each year, and they take between seven and 14 weeks to adjudicate. Often, the issues are resolved by the parties before a decision is reached by the board.

According to the union, Providence allegedly took actions to unlawfully disrupt the bargaining process. This includes trying to negotiate with employees directly outside of negotiation session and schedule changes outside the purview of their current contract. They also allegedly locked union members out of the room in which the strike vote was meant to take place.

“Providence’s behavior at the bargaining table has shown us consistent disrespect. That disrespect of our rights and our bargaining process has extended to management committing unfair labor practices,” reads the United Food and Commercial Workers 3000 statement.

The labor action follows MultiCare Deaconess and Valley hospitals’ narrow aversion of a similar strike earlier this month, after winning a pay raise arguing their salaries fell short of those at Providence and other employers. In their statement, the Sacred Heart union argued the increased salaries won at the other hospitals should be replicated at Providence.

“Management’s insistence that we compare our compensation with a nearby hospital vanished when those workers negotiated significant improvements. Now Providence seems perfectly comfortable making many of us the lowest-paid workers in our field in our region, all while committing unfair labor practices throughout our negotiations. They even made the decision to take away snacks and drinks from employees utilizing the (operating room) break room,” they wrote.

The strike is scheduled to begin April 22 at 2 p.m. and continue until April 30. Striking workers will picket outside the hospital every day between 5:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m.

According to Holmes, reaching a deal before striking begins is unlikely because Providence is refusing to bargain this week.

“The bargaining team is ready at any time, any place to bargain. And I wish we could bargain in good faith and bring forth a resolution,” Holmes said.