Hospice workers with Providence Hospice and Homecare of Snohomish County launched a billboard campaign in Everett calling for the organization to put patients before executive pay. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

Hospice workers with Providence Hospice and Homecare of Snohomish County launched a billboard campaign in Everett calling for the organization to put patients before executive pay. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

Hospice workers go big in labor spat with Providence Health

Three years after unionizing the bargaining team is still negotiating a contract with the agency.

EVERETT — Hospice workers have escalated their fight with Providence Hospice and Homecare of Snohomish County, installing three billboards in Everett calling for the organization to put patients before executive pay.

The workers voted to unionize three years ago — joining SEIU Healthcare 1199NW — and since then have been trying to negotiate a contract with the agency.

“We haven’t gotten very far in the three years,” said Sarah Taylor, a nurse for the agency and a bargaining team member. “It’s very disheartening, it feels like you aren’t being listened to.”

A spokeswoman for the health care organization insisted progress is being made.

The union is seeking smaller caseloads, an increase in pay and a wage scale based on experience.

“We are hemorrhaging staff due to the lack of a contract,” Taylor said. “If we would have settled a contract we would have fair wages and people would be being paid for their experience.”

The union argues the nonprofit has plenty of cash and needs to be investing in patients and caregivers. They have repeatedly pointed to salaries of some top executives, many of whom took home more than $1 million in salary and benefits in 2017, according to tax documents.

“We are hoping to work with Providence and not have a strike, nobody wants a strike,” Taylor said. “People have talked about it, we don’t feel like we are there yet.”

A transparent wage scale is important to ensure workers are being paid based on their experience, said Susan Dittman, a nurse with the agency.

“(Providence) should be able to budget enough money to pay equitably and fairly,” Dittman said.

One of the three billboards in Everett towers over cars rushing by along Broadway at 13th Street near the hospital. Others went up near Providence’s corporate headquarters in Renton, the union said. And a mobile billboard has been roaming around Everett and Renton in recent weeks.

“It typically takes longer to reach a first contract because hundreds of items need to be negotiated,” Mary Beth Walker, a spokeswoman for the health care organization, said in an email. “We have successfully negotiated the majority of the items and are optimistic we will come to agreement on the remaining ones soon.”

Walker disputed claims by the union that caregivers are overworked and underpaid.

“Our home health and hospice caregiver caseloads are on par with all of our other home health and hospice facilities in Washington,” she said. “Whether it’s a facility leader’s salary or a front-line caregiver’s salary, we use third-party studies to ensure our compensation is in line with the market data.”

The union represents 225 nurses, chaplains, social workers and other caregivers in Snohomish County.

No date has been set for the next bargaining session.

The healthcare agency is part of Providence Health & Services and the broader Providence St. Joseph Health system.

Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; egiordano@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @lizzgior.

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