EDMONDS — Wielding signs and megaphones in the rain, hundreds of chanting nurses and caregivers at Swedish Edmonds hospital formed a picket line Tuesday morning outside the hospital.
Nearly 8,000 Swedish employees across all campuses in the Seattle area are striking this week. SEIU Healthcare 1199NW members filed notices for the three-day strike earlier this month, saying contract negotiations stalled when the health care provider wouldn’t commit to staffing increases.
“We’re here to hold Providence accountable to provide safe staffing for our patients,” said Jayne Weaver, a case manager at Swedish Edmonds. “The word that we’re getting from the other campuses is that there appears to be just as much commitment to the cause. We’re going to get this job done.”
At 7 a.m. Tuesday, fill-in health care workers crossed the picket line to take over for the striking employees.
The strike will last until 7:30 a.m. Friday.
“We are pleased that operations are running smoothly at all of our campuses,” Swedish said in a statement. “It is important for our patients, their families and our community to know that they can continue to count on Swedish to provide high-quality, safe and compassionate care during the strike.”
In total, thousands of replacement nurses and caregivers were flown in from across the country. They’re costing Swedish at least $11 million, CEO Guy Hudson said.
The workers got to Seattle a few days before the strike, where they were trained on Swedish’s computer systems and policies.
During the strike, non-emergency and elective procedures will likely be delayed. Additionally, the Ballard labor and delivery department and Ballard and Redmond emergency rooms are closed until Friday.
The contract for the fill-in caregivers is for five days, although the strike is expected to end after three.
Union organizers say they’re worried the replacements will continue working after the strike, locking them out of their jobs.
“I think that we are all educated on our contract and we have a plan to return to our jobs on Friday and Saturday as we’ve been scheduled to do,” Weaver said.
Swedish leaders said some fill-in employees will continue to work after the walkout, as the striking nurses and caregivers transition back into their roles.
Outside the hospitals, security guards in long yellow coats are providing extra security during the strike.
The union says it’s a scare tactic. Hudson says it’s an added precaution, though he doesn’t anticipate any problems.
In a Tweet Tuesday morning, the Edmonds Police Department announced extra patrols around the hospital “to provide a safe environment for all.”
Negotiations between Swedish and SEIU Healthcare 1199NW started nine months ago. The union says Swedish, a Providence affiliate, prioritizes executive pay over safe staffing levels.
In November, union members authorized strikes at each campus, joining 5,000 other Providence-affiliated employees across the state who also approved walkouts.
In early January, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW and two other unions threatened to issue strike notices, but an all-nighter with a federal mediator kept both sides at the bargaining table.
Within a week, the two other unions reached agreements with Providence as SEIU Healthcare 1199NW and Swedish continued to negotiate.
Contract talks will continue after the strike, a Swedish spokesperson said.