EVERETT — Slow-moving negotiations in a year-long contract dispute between Providence Regional Medical Center and some of its employees prompted some union members to begin picketing the hospital’s sidewalks.
The technicians and professionals employed by Providence are seeking wage increases and to retain sick leave benefits in negotiations that have been ongoing since contracts began to expire in March 2018.
These most recent rounds of negotiations are separate from those for hospice workers at Providence, who’ve been in contract talks for nearly three years, and nurses, who received raises in a contract agreement last year. Both of those unions have also set up pickets.
“The overall intention and hope that the employees have is to come to the bargaining table and have a meaningful discussion about these key topics,” said Maria Goodall, a technician in the imaging department at Providence since 2006.
So far unsatisfied with offers from Providence negotiators, employees in Everett, Olympia and Spokane took to the streets for an informational picketing session on June 27. In Everett, the nearly 600 affected employees marched along 13th Street.
“Providence has just become very corporate,” said Rodney Powers, a radiologic technologist with the medical center since 2006 and a member of the bargaining team. “I don’t think they are thinking about the betterment of their employees like they used to.”
Powers said requests for a 5% wage increase have been rebuked with .25% or 1.25% offers from Providence.
Union officials say Providence, a regional nonprofit health system, takes in $24 billion annually and the CEO received compensation of more than $10 million in 2017.
“It’s disheartening to see people in leadership roles have an opportunity to make such huge bonuses that I see as detrimental to the front line staff who are working so hard,” Goodall said.
A recent decision to freeze employees extended-illness bank benefit in favor of short-term disability benefits has only widened the divide between the parties.
The long-term sick time — some employees have accrued upward of 1,000 hours — would be replaced by a plan that pays out less money, and is restricted solely to workers’ illnesses and only after a seven-day absence.
“A lot of people feel betrayed by that,” Powers said. “The irony of a hospital taking away employee sick leave can’t be missed.”
While less important, another decision to charge for parking at Providence earlier this year was like adding gasoline to the fire in Powers’ mind.
“They want to start charging us for parking in the fall and take away any pay raise they give us,” he said.
A statement provided by Cheri Russum, senior communications manager at Providence, said the Medical Center and United Food and Commercial Workers union were actively working toward a resolution.
“Providence respects that picketing activities are part of the bargaining process. As always, we encourage union leaders and caregivers to focus their efforts on productively reaching agreements at the bargaining table,” the statement said in part.
“We believe this is the best place to work and the best place to go for care — when we all stay focused on why we were called to serve in the health care field, together we accomplish great things.”
On Tuesday, both sides will return to the bargaining table in search of compromise.
Barring a resolution, Providence employees from across the state are expected to gather on July 26 outside Providence headquarters in Renton for a “Patients Before Profits” rally.