Swedish nurses authorize strike if negotiations stay stalled

Workers at all Swedish campuses, including Edmonds’, are asking for increased staffing, better wages.

EDMONDS — Nurses and health care workers standing outside Seattle’s Swedish Medical Center announced Friday their union, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, had authorized a strike that would affect all Swedish hospitals, including the Edmonds campus.

The union, which represents 8,000 members in Swedish hospitals, voted in an effort to bring company brass back to negotiations for increased staffing, higher wages and better benefits. While union members authorized the strike, there’s been no decision on whether workers will carry one out.

“I didn’t become a nurse to provide minimal care,” Carol Lightle, a nurse at Swedish Issaquah, said in a news release. “Every health care worker could tell you that, and all of us face the same issues.”

The union’s contract with Swedish ended in June but was extended to the end of July. Negotiations for a new deal started in April.

In a statement Tuesday, Swedish leadership said they were disappointed the union was using the threat of a strike during negotiations.

“A strike would not only represent a step backwards in our negotiations but could prove disruptive to patients who count on us for their care,” the statement said. “Swedish has put a strong set of proposals on the table, including a new round of improvements on wages and benefits. We want to continue to bargain in good faith and to keep the federal mediators engaged to move the negotiations forward.”

Members are saying Swedish and parent-company Providence’s priorities have shifted from patient care to executive pay and company expansion.

“When corporations take over community hospitals, they prioritize the bottom line over the people in the community – nurses and patients,” Martha Galvez, a nurse at Richland-based Kadlec Regional Medical Center said in a news release. “That’s what Providence is doing in the Tri-Cities and communities across Washington. That’s just wrong.”

After Friday’s vote, workers met with administrative leaders Monday, but are “essentially in the same place,” SEIU 1199NW spokesperson Amy Clark said.

“Swedish management still believes the proposals they’ve made to form a committee (to address issues) would solve the problem,” she said.

Nurses and health care workers at Swedish are joining others in the state, including at Everett’s Providence Regional Medical Center, threatening action if executives don’t continue negotiations.

At nearby Providence Hospice and Home Care of Snohomish County, workers organized a union in 2016 and are still negotiating their first contract, Clark said. The union is asking for the same standards and conditions already provided at a similar Providence facility in Lacey, she said.

“The outside appearance of it is that Providence is doing everything that it can to prevent workers from organizing, to prevent workers from negotiating and to prevent workers from having contracts,” Clark said.

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

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