Mary Hurt, a financial counselor at Swedish Edmonds, leads chants as she and fellow union members gather outside the hospital’s main entrance on Friday. (Joey Thompson / The Herald)

Mary Hurt, a financial counselor at Swedish Edmonds, leads chants as she and fellow union members gather outside the hospital’s main entrance on Friday. (Joey Thompson / The Herald)

Strike at Swedish is over, but contract dispute is not

The health care provider says replaced strikers will return to work by Sunday. The union calls it a lockout.

EDMONDS — The three-day strike at every location of health-care provider Swedish is over, but some nurses and other workers are still rallying outside the hospitals.

When the walkout ended at 7:30 a.m. Friday, union members at Swedish Edmonds marched to the hospital’s main entrance, where security barred them from entering.

Swedish set up a check-in station at another area of the campus where employees could find out if they were allowed to work. Those who were scheduled to come back started their shifts. Employees who were turned away filed affidavits with the union local, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, claiming Swedish violated labor laws by locking them out.

Nearly 8,000 nurses and caregivers were qualified to participate in the strike. Swedish says more than 1,000 employees crossed the picket line to work their scheduled shifts.

Of those who walked out, 1,600 are back at work.

Elizabeth Wako, chief medical officer at Swedish First Hill in Seattle, called it a rolling transition from replacement workers to regular employees that will end Sunday morning.

The contract for fill-in employees was for five days, and they are costing the health care provider more than $11 million. Swedish wants to be fiscally responsible, Wako said during a Thursday news conference.

“Despite what the union says, we are not engaged in an unlawful lockout,” spokesperson Tiffany Moss said in a news release Friday.

Swedish started telling employees about the phase-in plan before organizers delivered strike notices on Jan. 17, she said.

“This is a slap in the face, and we feel betrayed and devalued,” Whittney Powers, a registered nurse in the Edmonds emergency room, said in a union news release. “We’re eager to get back to work caring for our patients, and to get back to negotiating a fair contract which ensures safe patient care.”

The two sides have been negotiating for nine months.

In its last offer, Swedish proposed 11.25% raises over four years, new child and elder care benefits, and no changes for paid time off.

Union organizers said the deal didn’t do enough to boost staffing levels.

Now, that offer is off the table. With the strike, Swedish withdrew it.

When the strike started Tuesday, hundreds of nurses and caregivers carried signs at every Swedish campus while chanting their demands for increased staffing.

Throughout the week, politicians from Snohomish and King counties joined picketing nurses and health care employees.

In Edmonds, Mayor Mike Nelson, council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and council member Laura Johnson addressed the health care workers gathered outside the hospital Friday morning.

Before he was elected mayor, Nelson led the SEIU’s legislative and political efforts for the state. He called the working conditions at the Edmonds hospital “just plain wrong.”

Fraley-Monillas said she’s heard “horror stories” about staffing cuts and high caseloads from nurses who work at the Edmonds hospital.

Both Nelson and Fraley-Monillas said they hope the strike brings both sides back to the bargaining table.

“Letting them in the building is the first step,” Fraley-Monillas said. “They’re ready to get back to work.”

Johnson brought her son to the strike event.

“As a mom, I’ve been in the emergency room a number of times with kids. I know first hand how important quality care is,” Johnson said. “I’m here to stand behind them.”

In Seattle, Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine joined the striking health care workers at Swedish First Hill.

At a rally Wednesday night in Seattle, union organizers relayed messages from Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar.

Contract negotiations between SEIU Healthcare 1199NW and Swedish started in April.

Union organizers say the standard of care started to decline when Providence Health & Services acquired Swedish in 2012.

In November, union-represented nurses and caregivers authorized strikes at each campus. They joined 5,000 other Providence-affiliated employees statewide who also approved walkouts, including 650 technical and professional workers at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW and two health care unions threatened to file strike notices in early January, but an all-nighter with a federal mediator kept both sides at the bargaining table.

Within a week, the two other unions reached tentative deals for their members.

Negotiations will continue after the strike, but no talks have been scheduled, both sides said.

This article was updated to reflect the 11.25% raises offered by Swedish were spread over four years, not two.

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

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