Workers and supporters protested against proposed cuts of benefits outside Providence Regional Medical Center Everett on June 27. (Lizz Giordano / Herald file)

Workers and supporters protested against proposed cuts of benefits outside Providence Regional Medical Center Everett on June 27. (Lizz Giordano / Herald file)

Health workers postpone Providence-Swedish strike notice

Both sides reported progress in contract talks, with a possible settlement in sight.

SEATTLE — Union-represented Swedish and Providence employees from across the state, including in Everett and Edmonds, have postponed a strike notice after substantial progress was made Thursday night in talks with the health-care organization. Both sides were optimistic about reaching a deal in the next week.

The decision to delay was made after Swedish and parent-company Providence negotiators made commitments to address staffing concerns, a union news release said Friday morning. Marathon bargaining is expected over the next seven days, and union representatives say a strike is still possible.

“The goal has never been to strike — we want a fair contract,” said Whittney Powers, a registered nurse at Swedish Edmonds. “I think part of why Providence has started to come about and make these commitments is they have seen how passionate our caregivers are and the momentum we have in this movement.”

Swedish’s priority has always been to reach a deal that supports its staff and patients, Chief Nursing Officer Margo Bykonen said.

“We’re very pleased to be in this position today,” she said. “I’ve worked here for decades, I know the quality of care they provide and we’re committed to those caregivers.”

A strike could have involved 13,000 employees at 13 locations statewide. Those workers are represented by one of three unions — SEIU HealthcareNW 1199, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 and the Washington State Nurses Association.

In the past few months, employees at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, Swedish Edmonds and Hospice and Homecare of Snohomish County each authorized strikes as contract talks stalled.

Negotiators from both sides met Thursday with a federal mediator. Members from both sides said agreements were reached on some of the key issues.

Swedish outlined a new proposal earlier this week with 5.5% raises by July, a $750 contract ratification bonus for employees and a joint committee to address staffing concerns.

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW representatives said the offer didn’t go far enough to ensure adequate caseloads for nurses and caregivers.

Previous offers made cuts to medical benefits, paid time off and sick leave, with little protection against layoffs, Powers said.

“We still won’t accept sub-par commitments to patient safety,” she said. “We have to see something real and tangible for us to get a contract. This is Providence’s opportunity to do that and avoid a strike.”

Bykonen said Swedish has bargained in good faith since talks started in April.

“We are proud of what we’ve proposed and we are very proud of the care we’ve continued to provide for our community,” Bykonen said.

Both sides are optimistic about forming at least a framework of a deal in the next seven days.

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; jthompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

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