Picketers march Wednesday afternoon across from Providence Medical Center in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Picketers march Wednesday afternoon across from Providence Medical Center in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Nurses picket Providence, claiming low wages, fewer benefits

Talks between the Everett hospitals and UFCW 21, representing 1,700 nurses, have been underway since October.

EVERETT — Hundreds of people wielded picket signs outside Everett’s two Providence hospitals last week, as leaders of the nurses’ union and hospital administrators continue to negotiate a new labor contract.

Talks between officials of Providence and UFCW 21, which represents 1,700 nurses at the Everett hospitals, have been underway since October. The union says Providence’s latest offers contain below-market wages, reduced paid leave and fewer medical benefits for family members.

“Hopefully, Providence takes us seriously and comes to the table with better terms,” said Kimball Conlon, a registered nurse at the Everett hospital’s emergency department and member of the union’s bargaining team. “I believe in Providence’s mission, even if it feels like the administration and the higher-ups have lost sight of it for the almighty dollar.”

Nurses and supporters conducted the informational picket Wednesday. On Friday, negotiations resumed with the involvement of a federal mediator.

“Providence respects that (Wednesday’s) activities are part of the bargaining process,” a statement from the hospital said. “As always, we encourage union leaders and caregivers to focus their efforts on productively reaching agreements at the bargaining table.”

The last time the two sides agreed to a deal, negotiations took 10 months.

Picketers march Wednesday afternoon across from Providence Medical Center in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Picketers march Wednesday afternoon across from Providence Medical Center in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Amid a nationwide nursing shortage and a pandemic, Conlon says it’s harder than ever to recruit new nurses and retain experienced ones.

“Our management team and our represented caregivers all share the same goal of providing the best possible care to our patients,” Providence said in its statement. “We value our caregivers (employees), who are among the most experienced and compassionate in the state. 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.”

This isn’t the first time a union has said Providence wanted to slash benefits and offer below-market wages. And negotiations for new contracts often take months, if not years.

The turning point, some union members have said, came when Providence merged with St. Joseph Health in 2012.

In October 2019, hundreds of technical and professional employees at Providence’s Everett hospitals, also represented by UFCW 21, authorized a strike, citing low-ball offers from hospital administrators.

The union and Providence reached a deal in early January, after workers announced they would strike.

Picketers prepare to march Wednesday afternoon across from Providence Medical Center in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Picketers prepare to march Wednesday afternoon across from Providence Medical Center in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

That agreement came hours after service and maintenance workers at Sacred Heart in Spokane and Providence negotiators OK’d a contract protecting paid leave and benefits.

Weeks later, nurses and caregivers working for Swedish Health Services, a Providence affiliate, went on a 10-day strike to protect medical benefits and improve staffing.

With no deal following the strike, Gov. Jay Inslee intervened with a four-day bargaining session led by an MIT professor. A few weeks later, the two sides reached a tentative agreement.

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

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