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Aug. 22, 2019

Amy Clark

Staffing levels top priority at informational picket and rally

SEATTLE—“Patients before profits” was the rallying cry Thursday as caregivers picketed at all seven Swedish-Providence campuses, calling for safe staffing levels, wages that recruit and retain top talent, and racial justice and respect for all.

Nurses and other healthcare workers who are members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW say they believe that providing the best quality care is no longer Swedish-Providence’s top priority. Instead, they say they have seen drastic changes at Swedish-Providence, which prioritize executive pay, profits and expansion above the needs of patients.

“Our patients are in the center of all the decisions we make, and they should be at the center of Swedish-Providence’s decisions too,” said Lizette Vanunu, a registered nurse in the intensive care unit at Swedish First Hill. Ms. Vanunu’s remarks came at a rally Thursday afternoon on First Hill, along with Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA 9), State Rep. Rebecca Saldaña (D- 37thLD), State Rep. Nicole Macri (D- 43rd LD), advocacy leaders and other member leaders of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW.

Nurses are worried that staffing cuts will prevent them from providing patients the best quality of care. They say compensation could be one reason for any challenges in recruiting and retaining caregivers. Providence St. Joseph Health, the parent company of Swedish, pays its top 15 executives over $41 million annually, with routine raises and generous benefits, yet frontline workers may see their benefits cut and cannot keep up with the rising cost of living in the Seattle area.

“Service workers like me struggle to make ends meet and Swedish-Providence needs to do the right thing to take care of their caregivers so that we can take care of the patients,” said rally speaker Margie McInnis, a central service technician at Swedish First Hill. According to an SEIU Healthcare 1199NW survey, Swedish-Providence workers commute an average of 84 minutes to work each day, many passing other hospitals on their way to work.

Supporting the picket and rally at Swedish-Providence were thousands of healthcare workers at other Providence facilities around Washington State. “Stickering up” in solidarity were the 1,900 nurses at Sacred Heart and 915 nurses at Providence Kadlec Regional Medical Center in the Tri-Cities, represented by WSNA, all of whom are fighting for fair contracts; 6,000 UFCW 21 members at Providence facilities across the state, many of whom are participating in nine current contract negotiations; over 1,000 OPEIU Local 8 workers at Providence Regional Medical Center, who have been in contract negotiations for the past 10 months; and an additional 225 members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW at Providence Hospice and Homecare, who are locked in a years-long fight for a first contract.

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW members have proposed safe staffing ratios; wages, benefits and training opportunities that will recruit and retain top-quality staff; and an organizational equity and inclusion initiative to ensure respect for all in both patient care delivery and the workplace.

Bargaining has been ongoing since April. SEIU Healthcare 1199NW’s collective bargaining agreement with Swedish Medical Center expired June 30, 2019, and was extended through the end of July. Workers say they hope to return to the bargaining table next month.

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW is a union of nurses and healthcare workers with over 30,000 caregivers throughout hospitals, clinics, mental health, skilled home health and hospice programs in Washington State and Montana.
SEIU Healthcare 1199NW’s mission is to advocate for quality care and good jobs for all.




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