Online update Oct. 10, 2019: This news item has changed since publication. The unions and companies are reaching accord on bargaining issues.
Strike plans delayed for Providence health care workers
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — Health care workers will not strike, yet, and are in marathon negotiations that started late last week and continued through the weekend to develop a contract for Providence and Swedish workers thoughout the county.
Preparation for a strike started just after Christmas. SEIU and UFCW representing health care workers poised for an “imminent” strike until all-night negotiations produced a stall to those plans. Postponement was announced the morning of Jan. 3, after progress was made between the unions and management. Now both sides anticipate a resolution. Intensive talks are scheduled through Jan. 10.
“It would be wonderful to not have to strike,” said Cynthia Robson, licensed and independent clinical social worker (LICSW) who has been with Providence for 25 years and sits on the bargaining team for her local. Robson works for Providence Home and Hospice Care.
The labor unrest is part of a statewide action of 13,000 health care workers at 13 locations, the union representing Providence hospice and health care said. Robson said unions statewide have banded together, because executives have repeatedly rejected their requests.
Top concerns that led to a near-strike circle around workload and pay, and spanned three and a half years of negotiations. The union said heavy patient-loads decrease the amount of time and attention for each individual patient, and pay rates are not keeping pace with the market.
The bargaining process came to a head last week with both SEIU and UFCW ready to issue a strike notice, scheduled for Friday of last week. Strike plans were delayed after all-night negotiations led to a tone of compromise. Unions have announced that they won’t vote to strike as long as negotiations are ongoing. If a strike was called, it would put medical management into a 10-day scramble to implement contingency plans, hiring temporary workers to care for patients.
Workers say a better contract will help prevent turnover, which they say contributes to patient care. Specializations in diabetes, dementia and other ailments come with symptoms and behaviors that health care workers learn, over time.
“You want someone who has done this work enough to know what they’re seeing,” Robson said.
New employees need the incentive to stay and build a career, and seasoned employees won’t stay if their work situation could be bettered elsewhere, Robson explained.
Mary Beth Walker, communication director for Providence Hospice and Home Care of Snohomish County, represented by SEIU 1199NW spoke on behalf of the executives there.
Walker said caseloads are consistent with national industry averages.
Providence says pay scales at Providence Hospice and Home Care of Snohomish County is drawing new people. The agency has hired 75 providers in the past 12 months, with a turnover rate of 12 percent, citing the national average health care turnover rate last year at 20.6 percent. Robson said health care workers do not want to strike. The thought of leaving their patients to others is a difficult choice.
Officials speaking on behalf of management agree.
Tiffany Moss, communications manager for Swedish, said of the intensive negotiations this week: “Swedish is optimistic that we can come to an agreement at the bargaining table.”
Walker echoed that sentiment: “We all share the same goal of providing high-quality, compassionate care to our patients; many of whom are frail, elderly and suffering from serious illnesses.”
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