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

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

Providence hospice and homecare employees threaten to strike

They join workers from 12 other Providence affiliates who’ve OK’d a strike to spur contract talks.

EVERETT — Some Providence employees are again threatening to strike if contract negotiations with company brass remain stalled.

Roughly 225 nurses and health care professionals from SEIU Local 1199NW at Providence Hospice and Home-care of Snohomish County in Everett authorized a strike last week, making them the 13th Providence affiliate to do so in Washington state.

“We don’t want our patients to suffer but we feel like we’re backed into a corner,” said Millie Uzoma, a licensed practical nurse on the bargaining team. “They’re not taking our pleas seriously.”

Union leaders say wages are too low and caseloads are too high, which makes retaining staff difficult and lowers the quality of care. And the Everett hospice workers are asking for the same conditions as a hospice care center in Lacey.

Providence spokesperson Mary Beth Walker said claims about declining care for patients aren’t true.

“Patient safety is our top priority and we know our caregivers are committed to delivering high-quality care,” she said.

Walker also said Providence has raised Everett caregiver salaries five times while in contract negotiations, “because we didn’t think it was right to make caregivers wait until the end of negotiations to receive increases.”

“We believe the outside contract terms the union proposed are not appropriate for an agency operating in Snohomish County with demographics and patient care needs unique to this geography,” she said.

The workers organized in 2016 and have yet to ratify a contract with Providence. In 2017, they went on a three-day strike.

“It didn’t bear the fruit we wanted and now we’re looking at having to do it again,” said Melissa Salazar, a hospice aid certified nursing assistant. “We feel like Providence has left us no other choice. We’ve been back and forth for three and a half years.”

This go-around, more than 90 percent of members approved the strike authorization, she said. If and when workers carry one out hasn’t been determined.

The hospice and homecare workers in Everett have joined hundreds of technicians and professionals at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, who authorized a strike in October amid their union’s contract negotiations.

Nearby, nurses also affiliated with SEIU Local 1199NW at the Swedish Hospital in Edmonds authorized a strike in November.

In total, about 13,000 Providence-affiliated employees across the state could strike.

Union leaders also say Providence is prioritizing executive pay over patient care, citing multi-million dollar salaries for company leaders.

“We have staff here that can’t even get a house,” Uzoma said.

On Tuesday, executives and union leaders met to continue negotiations.

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

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