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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘We are the heart of Sacred Heart’: Providence technical workers are now on strike

With chants of “We are the heart of Sacred Heart,” the Providence hospital strike launched Monday afternoon.

Jubilant picketers lined up outside of Sacred Heart around 2 p.m. – some coming directly off their shift to grab a sign and put their yellow United Food and Commercial Workers International Union 3000 shirts over their hospital scrubs or uniform.

“I’m pumped!” yelled cardiovascular tech and bargaining team member Derek Roybal when asked how he was feeling minutes before the strike began. “Hopefully finally Providence will hear us!”

Respiratory therapist Sydney Charlton said she was “excited but a little sad” at the onset of the strike. It had been “bittersweet” to leave her patients and coworkers the previous night at her last shift before the strike.

“It was hard to do, but it is necessary. It’s for our patients. We are chronically short-staffed – have been for years. And that is because Providence won’t give us a competitive wage,” she said.

Bargaining member and surgical tech Angela Holmes came directly from her shift and had been escorted out of the hospital by Providence security at 2 p.m. According to Holmes, it was “all very cordial,” but still a “weird and surreal” experience.

Respiratory therapist Michelle Schultz brought her 4-year-old daughter to the protest – saying it is important for her child to “see me stand up for myself and for what’s right.”

Having a newborn in the COVID-19 pandemic, Schultz felt pressured into overtime that took her away from her daughter.

“This strike represents the time I lost because of mandatory overtime during COVID when all I wanted was to be home with her,” she said. “But we weren’t allowed to leave our 12-hour shift without getting sent to HR for patient abandonment while receiving no hazard pay.”

About 250 picketers split into marching in circles. Frequent honks of support came from cars driving past on busy McClellan Avenue, including from several Spokane firetrucks.

Sunshine Lopez is a home caregiver and part of another union. But she came picketing to show support for the striking health care workers.

“We bring our clients here, and these people have to take care of our clients, and if they’re not getting the best pay, then they’re not going to be able to care for our clients,” Lopez said.

In a statement, Providence reiterated Sacred Heart will remain open throughout the strike, and appointments will continue as normally scheduled. If an appointment needs to be rescheduled, patients will be contacted directly.

“Sacred Heart’s strike preparation has gone well and we are confident in the care we will provide throughout the strike. We will be joined by highly qualified, experienced replacement workers to support continued care for our community during the strike,” the statement reads.

The hospital system also noted they “do not want a strike” and had offered “strong, market competitive proposals” before a strike notice was delivered.

UFCW President Faye Guenther said such assertions by Providence leadership are untrue.

“We believe that Providence is violating the law by not bargaining with us. They didn’t bargain with us during the 10 days leading up to the strike,” she said, noting the union has filed an unfair labor practices complaint based on Providence’s conduct.

Guenther also alleged Providence had put up fencing prior to the strike in areas that not only block picketers but also handicapped patients. On Monday, fencing had been put up around Providence Sacred Heart’s emergency department.

Picketing will continue daily from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and a “solidarity rally” will be held Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Cowley Park.