SEATTLE — Unionized nurses and other health care workers at Swedish-Providence voted to authorize a strike if Providence did not come back to the bargaining table with fair contract proposals.
SEIU Health Care 1199NW, the union representing 15,000 Washington State health care workers, authorized the strike.
Health care workers said that while they voted to authorize a strike, their end goal is a fair contract, which they hope to achieve through continued talks.
Caregivers at Swedish and other Providence-owned hospitals claim management has committed multiple unfair labor practices like firing workers for union activity and failing to provide information necessary for bargaining.
SEIU Health Care 1199NW members also claim that Providence is focused more on profits than on patient care.
One Swedish First Hill nurse told KING 5 that the hospital eliminated a team that specialized in giving patients IVs.
"We are all expected to become proficient in a short period of time. That is not happening and we have patients that are getting IVs stuck three or four times before we can get the IV into that patient," said Delores Prescott, a Swedish nurse.
Unionized workers at Swedish-Providence joined nurses and health care 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.
In a statement, Swedish said:
“We are disappointed that SEIU 1199NW is using a strike authorization vote to exert pressure on Swedish in the bargaining process. 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.”
“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. We are serious about reaching an agreement through bargaining and hope SEIU 1199NW shares our commitment to find solutions that work."
The union's collective bargaining agreement with Swedish Medical Center expired on June 30, 2019 and was extended through the end of July.
Bargaining has been ongoing since April and workers picketed in August.
There will be two more sessions for bargaining in November and December before a decision to strike is made.
The union will give a 10-day notice before walking off the job. This will be the first time in at least the past 20 years that the union has authorized a strike.
"The one thing we do not want is a strike. Our members do not want a strike, our coworkers do not want a strike. We are very serious because we want to stand up for safe care," Prescott said.