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

Sacred Heart strike starts today. Picketing begins at 2 p.m.

Jackie Williams, left, UFCW 3000’s lead negotiator at the table and the Eastern region’s campaign director, switches on a megaphone so UFCW 3000 member Beth Bronkhorst, a surgical technician, could familiarize herself with it on Friday as they prepare for the Providence Sacred Heart medical technicians’ strike in Spokane.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

The strike at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center is scheduled to begin Monday. Starting at 2 p.m. the hospital’s 500 technical workers are expected to walk out and begin picketing their employer.

Workers gathered Friday evening at United Food and Commercial Workers International Union 3000 offices in Spokane to learn how to be strike captains – charged with leading the pickets and ensuring safety.

Pediatric cardiac sonographer Mark Kehoe said he volunteered to be a strike captain because he had “never felt more disrespected in his life” than in during recent contract negotiations with Providence.

“They have not been bargaining, not in good faith. Providence has made it clear to us that they don’t care about us,” he said.

The weeklong strike will be a “financial burden” on Kehoe but he believes it is “worth it to do something important.” It is the first time he has been on strike in his 32 year career at Providence, but Kehoe is “excited” to be on the picket line.

“I will be there every single day. At least for my 5-hour shift and probably longer. I told my family not to expect to see me very often,” he said. “My family is supportive. They’ve seen me come home, tired and grumbling and they understand I’ve got a high-pressure job. And they are 100% behind me and what we’re trying to do.”

In contrast, Sacred Heart surgical tech Angela Holmes is “anxious” as the strike approaches.

“I’ve worked for Sacred Heart for 25 years. And I’ve never been in this position before. I just don’t know what to expect,” she said. “It won’t be easy, but I feel like this is just the next step in what we need to do to hopefully help convince Providence that we are important people,” she said.

Before the same meeting, UFCW 3000 campaign director and lead negotiator Jackie Williams was packing supplies to bring to a hotel nearby the hospital that will act as the union’s base of operations during the strike. Williams said she would rather be negotiating with Providence than preparing for the strike.

“If they truly wanted to avert the strike and not have a strike, they’d be bargaining with us right now,” she said.

Providence stopped bargaining with the union when they submitted a 10-day strike notice. According to Providence Inland Northwest CEO Susan Stacey, the hospital system could not bargain because it needed to focus all resources toward preparing for the strike.

“Once we get a strike notice our attention turns from negotiating to preparing. We have to take these 10 days to get ready because the primary focus now is being able to take care of our community and staying open and ready for the patients who are going to come through our doors. When the strike is over, we’ll turn our attention right back to getting back to the table and negotiating,” Stacey said last week.

Williams doesn’t buy that explanation – calling it “baffling” and “almost punitive” towards the workers.

“They can be bargaining. They’re choosing not to,” she said.

In an interview with The Spokesman-Review, Stacey echoed that same sentiment in the opposite direction.

“We didn’t choose this. UFCW chose this,” she said last week.

At issue in the negotiation is pay, which the union argues is not market competitive with other local hospital systems. According to Stacey, Providence last offered an across-the-board raise of 7% to 9.75%, as well as further increases based upon different job types.

Under the previous contract, base pay among all positions within the bargaining unit range from $19.72 an hour for a nutrition center technician to $39.04 an hour for some kinds of nuclear medicine technologists. While most of the positions top out of the wage scale between $30 and $40 an hour, the highest paid and most experienced nuclear medicine technologists reach up to $60 an hour under the expired contract.

Union spokesperson Anna Minard said that while technical workers may not be as visible as doctors or nurses, they are just as vital to the smooth running of a hospital.

“They are in the surgeries making sure nothing goes wrong. They provide patient care and medications. They do X-rays or ultrasounds. These are highly skilled professions,” Minard said.

Here is a list of some of the jobs included under the technical workers union.

  • Surgical technologists
  • Cardiovascular technologists
  • Pharmacy technicians
  • Nuclear medicine technologists
  • Respiratory therapists
  • Mental health technicians and counselors
  • Maternity technicians
  • Sonographers
  • Phlebotomists
  • Radiology technologists

UFCW 3000 is being supported by Sacred Heart’s nurses union. In a statement, Washington State Nurses Association spokesperson Ruth Schubert said nurses should wear a sticker supporting their coworkers.

“WSNA nurses recognize that these tech workers provide vital services that are essential to high quality care for our patients. We fully support our tech co-workers in their fight for a fair contract,” she said in a statement.

Schubert also noted that overtime is voluntary and that nurses can “refuse to work overtime without fear of retaliation.

Kehoe said he looks forward to getting to help children again when the strike is over.

“I’ve got parents and families that are counting on me, and I would much rather be in there with them than out on a picket,” he said.

“It’s fulfilling to be there helping families and go through some very difficult times with them. I often break down and cry with them. But from that initial diagnosis of your child having a heart defect to going through surgeries and follow ups for the rest of these kids lives, I’ll be there,” he said. “That’s one of the most rewarding things in my life for me.”