Washington Gov. Jay Inslee during a recent interview in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee during a recent interview in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Inslee gets involved in contract talks between Swedish, SEIU

The governor is orchestrating a four-day bargaining session with both sides led by an MIT professor.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee and a professor from MIT’s Sloan School of Management are part of the latest effort to broker a deal between Swedish Medical Center and the union representing 7,800 of its employees.

Negotiators from Swedish and SEIU Healthcare 1199NW will meet separately Friday with industrial relations professor Thomas Kochan, federal mediator Beth Schindler and Inslee’s staff ahead of face-to-face sessions next week, the governor’s office announced Wednesday. The health care provider and union have exchanged proposals once since a three-day strike in late January.

“The union and Swedish are clearly committed to establishing a more collaborative relationship for the future,” Inslee said in the news release. “The demands of health care today require a real partnership for the workers, Swedish and most importantly, its patients.”

Swedish and SEIU Healthcare 1199NW have been negotiating a new contract since April. The union is calling for increased staffing and better wages.

The two sides haven’t met face-to-face since before the three-day strike from Jan. 28-31, where thousands of employees participated across every Swedish campus, including the Edmonds hospital.

In its latest deal, Swedish management offered to fill 200 full-time positions and boost wages by 11.25% over four years.

The union said the proposal didn’t go far enough to address the estimated 900 open staff positions and asked for raises of 22.75%.

Sit-down talks between the health care provider and union are set to start March 5 in SeaTac. The governor wants a deal within four days.

“There’s a real sense of optimism,” said David Postman, Inslee’s chief of staff. “Partly that’s based on the reception we got from both sides when the governor talked to them about this. There seems to be a real desire to get this done.”

Inslee’s office started following the negotiations closely during the marathon bargaining session that ended with union members delivering strike notices on Jan. 17.

Inslee is often briefed on labor negotiations, Postman said, but this was the first time he’s officially gotten involved.

“It is different when you have a hospital,” he said. “It’s important to the community just as it is to the workers and the company, itself.”

Kochan from MIT has a long history in labor relations and mediation, including work for health care companies and unions. Swedish and SEIU Healthcare 1199NW are paying his fees.

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