15,000 nurses and healthcare workers at Providence-owned hospitals ready to strike

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Caregivers across Washington state unite to fight profit-driven healthcare

SEATTLE — In a press confer­ence held today outside Swedish Medical Center First Hill Campus, nurses and other health­care workers repre­senting caregivers from three unions announced their readi­ness to strike if parent company Provi­dence does not come back to the bargaining table with fair contract proposals.

The 8,000 SEIU Health­care 1199NW members at Swedish-Provi­dence, including nurses, techs, dietary and environ­mental services, and social workers and counselors, announced that they voted to autho­rize a strike, with a super­ma­jority of member on every Swedish campus voting in favor of the strike.

Union­ized workers at Swedish-Provi­dence join nurses and health­care workers from Provi­dence-owned Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital in Spokane, Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla, Centralia Hospital, Regional Medical Center in Everett and St. Peter Hospital in Olympia in voting to autho­rize a strike. Union members say these caregivers comprise 15,000 Washington State health­care workers who have autho­rized strikes. 

I didn’t become a nurse to provide minimal care,” said Carol Lightle, a charge nurse in a Medical Oncology unit at Swedish Issaquah. Every health­care worker could tell you that, and all of us face the same issues. The short staffing is the same in Environ­mental Services, our coworkers who disin­fect patient’s rooms; it’s the same in Materials Services where our coworkers resupply our units; it’s the same in nutri­tion services. We work together as a team to deliver patient care. And when a part of our team is short-staffed our patients feel it.”

Caregivers note the contrast between the resources their hospi­tals have received and the revenues and reserves accumu­lated by multi­bil­lion-dollar nonprofit hospital system Providence. 

Sacred Heart has always been Spokane’s hospital. Our hospital. But we have been fighting for more than a year for safe staffing levels and benefits we have already earned,” said KT Raley-Jones, a cardiac inten­sive care nurse at Sacred Heart. While we have been at the table working to protect our patients and our commu­nity, Provi­dence pocketed nearly $1 billion in profits in the first half of this year alone.”

In Washington State, Provi­dence St. Joseph Health operates 14 hospi­tals, hundreds of ambula­tory care sites, and gener­ates 31 percent of the system’s $24 billion in operating revenue, or $7.6 billion. Provi­dence paid its top 15 execu­tives $41 million in 2018, and had over $24 billion in operating revenue and more than $11 billion in cash reserves that same year.

The expan­sion of Provi­dence in the Washington State market was initially welcomed by some workers, but they say the result has been a focus on the bottom line, not on patient care. We expected big improve­ments when Kadlec affil­i­ated with Provi­dence. But so far, it has not been good for nurses, our patients or our commu­nity,” said Martha Galvez, a nurse in the Birth Center at Kadlec Regional Medical Center. When corpo­ra­tions take over commu­nity hospi­tals, they prior­i­tize the bottom line over the people in the commu­nity – nurses and patients. That’s what Provi­dence is doing in the Tri-Cities and commu­ni­ties across Washington. That’s just wrong.”

The Provi­dence expan­sion in Washington State is antic­i­pated to continue beyond just medical facil­i­ties. In 2020, Provi­dence will enter the commer­cial insur­ance market in Washington State by offering a health plan on the School Employees Benefit Board and on the Washington Health Benefits Exchange.

Staff short­ages caused by layoffs and wages and benefits that do no recruit and retain staff can create safety concerns for patients and for staff. Caregivers give so much of ourselves and can no longer keep ignoring the fact that safety is an issue on every campus,” said Valarie Howard, a telesitter in the electronic ICU at Swedish First Hill. Feeling like we can’t do every­thing our patients need from us has even led to the mental health issues that we are now facing. This has really gotten to me, and it can make our job extremely dangerous.”

Health­care workers say that while they have voted to autho­rize a strike, their end goal is a fair contract, which they hope to achieve through continued talks. They have noted their readi­ness to negotiate all day, every day and have called on Provi­dence manage­ment to do its part to reach an agree­ment. At the same time, workers feel manage­ment has impeded their ability to bargain. At Swedish-Provi­dence where I work, workers have suffered unfair labor practices including termi­na­tion for union activity, retal­i­a­tion for protected union activity, and a failure to provide infor­ma­tion neces­sary for bargaining,” said Howard.

Every day, my colleagues and I work to provide the highest quality care for patients and their families. Providence’s priority seems to be about the bottom line and how to give the largest bonuses to execu­tives. A strike won’t be easy, but we need to fight back to keep benefits we have earned,” said Rodney Powers, a Radiology Techni­cian at Provi­dence Regional Medical Center in Everett.

In addition to concerns about their employer’s commit­ment to safe care, caregivers at Swedish and other Provi­dence-owned hospi­tals believe manage­ment has committed multiple unfair labor practices, such as termi­na­tion of workers for union activity, retal­i­a­tion for protected union activity, and a failure to provide infor­ma­tion neces­sary for bargaining. Such unfair labor practices are commonly used to weaken the solidarity of union members and are themselves a viola­tion of federal law. 

Workers remain united for their patients and against profit-driven care. As an Emergency Room Assis­tant at Sacred Heart, I see patients and their families in times of greatest need,” said Jose Hernandez. They are counting on Provi­dence to provide the highest quality care, but too often Provi­dence is putting profits first. I am ready to strike for my patients and ensure their health is always our top priority.”