EVERETT — In yards and along roadsides, hundreds of yellow and blue signs have flooded Snohomish County, urging support of nurses at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.
After nearly eight months of contract negotiations, the hospital and 1,600 registered nurses still are not seeing eye to eye.
The nurses’ contract expired in October. Since then the nurses have been working under an extension of the previous agreement, according to the union. Representatives from United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 say the major sticking point is the need for more staffing.
“It’s been an issue for years,” said James Crowe, negotiations director for the union.
Nurses took further action Wednesday by holding lunchtime pickets at Providence’s Colby and Pacific campuses. At the Colby location, about 150 hospital workers and supporters held signs as they marched along 13th Street, chanting at times: “Hey Providence listen up, your workers are standing up.”
“While informational picketing has no impact on patient care, we are disappointed that the union has chosen this option, and we would prefer to get back to the bargaining table,” hospital spokeswoman Lisa Daly wrote in an email. “Providence Regional Medical Center Everett continues to remain committed to negotiating in good faith.”
The nurses were joined Wednesday by professional and technical staff, who also are bargaining new contracts. The contract for technical staff expires in June, and the professional staff contract ended in March. Staffing levels are an issue for these workers as well, Crowe said.
Workers inside the hospital could be seen waving and cheering on the demonstrators. The picketers also wrote postcard messages to management.
Suzanne Woodard, a labor and delivery nurse who was picketing, said staffing levels are at a bare minimum, which means many nurses weren’t getting breaks or chances to use the restroom.
Nurses often work 12-hour shifts, she said, “I challenge anyone to be on your feet for 12 hours and not sit down.”
Woodard, who is part of the negotiating team, said the nurses were concerned about patient safety.
“We work in the trenches,” she said. “We know what are appropriate staffing levels or not.”
The hospital declined to comment about staffing levels.
Since September, the union and hospital representatives have met more than a dozen times. And as of January, a federal mediator has been assisting the negotiations, Daly said. The two groups are scheduled to talk again Monday.
“While we are pleased we’ve made progress in some areas, we still have additional items to discuss … keeping in mind our shared goal of continuing to provide high-quality, compassionate care to our patients and community,” she said.
Woodard said she was hopeful the two groups can work out a deal.
“We hope to avoid a strike,” Woodard said, “but we are prepared to do so if that’s what it takes.”
Providence is the second largest employer in the county. In 2017, Providence had more than 31,000 inpatient admissions and handled nearly 90,000 emergency room visits, making it one of the busiest emergency rooms in the state.