Swedish Medical Center nurses could strike by year’s end

Union reps say negotiations have stalled since they began in April.

Nurses at Swedish Medical Centers across Washington state could go on strike depending the progress of contract negotiations at a Dec. 30 bargaining session.

Swedish is one of the largest health care providers in the state, and nurses represented by SEIU Healthcare 1199NW would join more than 13,000 strikers at 13 Providence locations across Washington. Swedish was bought by Providence in 2012, and since then, union representatives and employees said vacancies, staff turnover and low pay have been concerns.

If union members believe significant headway hasn’t been made following the Dec. 30 bargaining session, they could call a strike. A strike was authorized following negotiations in November.

Carol Lightle, a nurse at Swedish’s Issaquah campus and member of the bargaining committee said the possibility of a strike was one they didn’t make easily.

“We are basically fighting for — and our priorities as front-line caregivers are — safe staffing, we want to ensure that we are able to provide not only safe patient care but compassionate care,” Lightle said.

Lightle has been a nurse since 2001, and said Swedish used to be the “gold standard” of health care. But she said since Providence took over in 2012, the pay has not remained competitive and nurses are forced to live further from the hospitals they work at. She thinks wages contribute to Swedish having some 900 vacant positions company-wide, with about 600 of those positions being in nursing.

Other positions, like a team of IV nurses, was eliminated, forcing regular nurses to perform the procedures. Lightle said there’s a lack of quality supplies at the facilities too.

A press release issued by SEIU said there were more than 11,400 babies born at Swedish in 2018, which was 2,000 more than in 2015 but there were only three additional registered nurses in the labor and delivery department. Additionally, in 2018 the release said Swedish had nearly 1,600 patient beds, which is 145 more than in 2015 but there was only one additional service worker to clean and disinfect patient rooms.

“We came into nursing not to cut coners — we are dealing with lives,” she said. “We’re literally taking care of very vulnerable patients.”

Robin Wyss, secretary-treasurer for the SEIU chapter representing nurses at Swedish, said they made proposals in three main areas. Those areas included quality of patient care and under-staffing, recruitment and retention related to wages and benefits and racial justice and equity.

“What folks have seen over the last several years is the quality of care is declining because the resources to be able to provide that care has gotten worse,” Wyss said.

Since bargaining began in April, Swedish and the unions have been unable to find common ground, Wyss said. That sets the stage for nurses to strike in the coming weeks and the union is alleging unfair retaliation by management.

“We need a different environment to be able to bargain the agreement that will get Swedish back on the right track,” she said.

Swedish spokesperson Tiffany Moss issued an email statement saying they were “disappointed that SEIU 1199NW issued a press release announcing an ‘imminent strike’ in an effort to exert pressure on Swedish during the bargaining process.

“Given that we have another bargaining session scheduled for Monday, Dec. 30, we feel the union’s message is counterproductive,” the statement said. “A strike would not only represent a step backwards in our negotiations, but could prove disruptive to patients who rely on Swedish for their care.”

A press release from SEIU also said their asks were set against a background of increasing payoffs for Providence’s CEO. Compensation was noted for CEO Rod Hochman who received $10.5 million in 2017 while the company brought in $24 billion in revenue last year.

“We are here, we’re committed to the community in which we serve,” Lightle said. “We’re just asking for a little slice of that pie. We’re not even asking for what the CEOs are getting.”

More in News

Planting away on MLK Day of Service

From top to bottom: Father and son Jose and Joaquin Garcia plant… Continue reading

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson (center) announced a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson in a press conference Jan. 2. Debbie Warfield of Everett (left) lost her son to a heroin overdose in 2012. Skagit County Commissioner Lisa Janicki (right) lost her son to an overdose of OxyContin in 2017. They are joined by Rep. Lauren Davis of Shoreline (second from right), founder of the Washington Recovery Alliance. (TVW screenshot)
AG Bob Ferguson talks lawsuits, gun control

Washington state Attorney General stopped by Sound Publishing’s Kirkland office.

Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, the primary sponsor of SB 5323, speaking on the bill. (Photo courtesy of Hannah Sabio-Howell)
Proposed law adds a fee to plastic bags at checkout

Senate passes bill to ban single-use plastic bags, place 8-cent fee on reusable plastic bags.

Development has encroached on the East Lake Sammamish Trail (at right). Joe Livarchik/file photo
King County files lawsuit to finish East Lake Sammamish Trail

Homeowners have until September to remove buildings and other property from the right of way.

File photo.
Firefighter labor union agreement in place for next three years

The council recently passed a successor labor agreement.

From left, Debra Entenman, Tana Senn, Lisa Callan, Brandi Kruse, Manka Dhingra, Patty Kurderer, Roger Goodman and My-Linh Thai at the event. Blake Peterson/staff photo
I-976, affordable housing, other issues discussed at legislative breakfast event

The gathering included a keynote speech from attorney general Bob Ferguson.

Bellevue residents Marko and Karla Ilicic play a hockey game in the Topgolf Swing Suite inside Forum Social House. Natalie DeFord/staff photo
Forum Social House opens in Bellevue

Eastside gets new nightclub, mini golf, swing suites.

In November 2019, Washington voters approved Initiative 976, which calls for $30 car tabs. Sound Publishing file photo
Republicans try to guarantee $30 car tabs amid court hangup

Lawmakers sponsor companion bills in the House and Senate.

Most Read