For Immediate Release: Friday, Jan. 31, 2020
Contact: Amy Clark, firstname.lastname@example.org
In Response to Nurses and Caregivers Standing Up for Safe Patient Care and Staffing, Swedish-Providence Illegally Locks Hundreds, Possibly Thousands, Out of Their Jobs
As unfair labor practice strike ends, Swedish-Providence breaks labor law once again with partial lockout, potentially putting patient care at risk and punishing already-struggling working families
Seattle, WA- Today, after nurses and caregivers ended their successful three-day strike in which almost 8,000 workers participated, they were joined by elected officials and faith leaders as they attempted to return to their jobs caring for patients. Caregivers and supporters said they are extremely proud of the moral stand they took for safe patient care, staffing levels, and job improvements that will recruit and retain caregivers. There was a massive outpouring of support during the strike from patients, elected officials, community members and presidential candidates Warren, Sanders, Biden, Buttigieg and Klobuchar.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, King County Executive Dow Constantine, Sister Helen Brennan of the Sisters of Providence and Pastor Gregory Christopher, President of the Tacoma Ministerial Alliance and Tacoma branch of the NAACP, joined workers as they attempted to return to work at Swedish First Hill. At Cherry Hill staff were accompanied by Michael Ramos, Executive Director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle. Caregivers also tried to return to work at the Edmonds, Ballard, Issaquah, Redmond and Mill Creek facilities. But at each location, management turned away many workers, and told them they were being “temporarily replaced.” Workers say the lockout is economic retaliation for nurses and caregivers advocating for their patients and exercising their right to strike.
“I tried to go into my job and management said ‘sorry but you’ve been temporarily replaced’ and they didn’t tell me when I could return,” said Valarie Howard, a monitor tech at the First Hill Electronic Intensive Care Unit who has worked at Swedish for 22 years. “I feel disrespected and degraded, and I’m afraid the public is going to lose faith in Swedish’s commitment to safe patient care. We stayed strong on the picket line, and will continue to stay strong. We’re hoping management stops this hostile, aggressive retaliation against caregivers and comes back to the negotiating table. Swedish-Providence needs to put the humanity back into our hospitals.”
Workers who were turned away filled out affidavits en masse, to be included in the unfair labor practice charges which will be filed against Swedish-Providence for their illegal partial lockout. Nurses and caregivers worry that continuing to inadequately staff facilities with temporary replacement workers, who are not familiar with the units and have questionable experience, could put patients at further risk. Over the next couple days, elected officials, community supporters and caregivers will try to hold Swedish-Providence accountable so that competent, experienced staff people are returned to their jobs as quickly as possible. Not only do caregivers want to return to the bedside, they also want to get back to the negotiating table, but executives have continued their refusal to set any bargaining dates at all.
“I tried to go back to work caring for my patients but management told me not to come back until Sunday,” said Tyler Hartman, an emergency department tech at Swedish Edmonds. “It’s really sad and shocking, because management diverted patients away from our emergency department as they just didn’t have the qualified staff for many procedures. Hundreds of my coworkers are locked out throughout the whole hospital. Swedish-Providence would rather punish caregivers than ensure safe access to emergency care for our community, and that’s hurting our entire area. The permanent staff are the healthcare subject matter experts for our local demographic, and we’re also the local experts for our units. In emergency care, minutes and seconds are crucial, so I really hope Swedish-Providence lets us back as soon as possible to ensure safe, quality care.”
The partial lockout is a violation of federal labor law, and management has committed other unfair labor practices more than a dozen times, including intimidating, surveilling and terminating multiple caregivers for speaking out. Recently the National Labor Relations Board started legal proceedings against Swedish-Providence regarding the firing of three workers for union activity, and has opened investigations into many more violations.
In addition to joining caregivers as they attempted to go back to work, King County Executive Dow Constantine sent an open letter to Swedish-Providence CEO Guy Hudson. The letter reads in part: “As King County Executive, I have a responsibility for the health and safety of the public and King County’s own employees, who rely on Swedish for their health care. The public interest would be best served by Providence Swedish returning all bargaining unit employees represented by SEIU Healthcare 1199NW to their prior positions immediately upon the end of their 3-day strike. This will ensure the patient care is provided by experienced, competent staff.”
“Returning the experienced, skilled caregivers of Swedish to caring for the members of our community is an immediate priority for all of us,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. “While this strike may only have lasted three days, ultimately an expedited agreement is better for everyone in our city. We need this dispute resolved so that our dedicated staff can get back to work, serving our community, as quickly as possible.”
Management’s other unfair labor practices include: unilaterally changing working conditions without negotiating; refusing to provide even basic information to facilitate negotiations; and refusing to bargain recently to avert the unfair labor practice strike. Management has announced to the press that “all bets are off the table” and that “negotiations would have to begin over again.” This is also a violation of labor law because it is an indication of bad faith bargaining, and SEIU 1199NW members announced they will be filing another unfair labor practice charge.
For over nine months, Swedish-Providence nurses, nursing assistants, techs, lab workers, dietary workers, environmental service technicians, clerks, social workers and others have been proposing urgent solutions to improve patient care and jobs. Their contract proposals include: safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios; manageable workloads for environmental service technicians so they can properly clean and disinfect patients’ rooms; safeguards against racial discrimination so everyone is treated with respect on the job; and fair wages that recruit and retain qualified staff.
According to management’s own data, 1,000 healthcare workers a year leave Swedish-Providence and there are currently about 900 vacant staff positions. 600 of those positions are for registered nurses, and 50 percent of vacancies have gone unfilled for 60 days or longer. Instead of fundamentally solving ongoing turnover and staff vacancies, management has been abusing the use of call, including in the operating room, recovery and special procedures, which has created fatigue and unsafe conditions.
One of the reasons that Swedish-Providence has difficulty with recruitment and retention is that wages for frontline workers are not keeping up with the soaring cost of living, especially housing. Swedish-Providence pays almost 40 percent of its employees below the salary necessary to afford the average one-bedroom in the Seattle area. While caregivers have been struggling, top executives at the “non-profit” have raked in millions of dollars in compensation. Providence had $24 billion in revenue and $11 billion in cash reserves in 2018, and $970 million in profits in just the first three quarters of 2019.
SEIU Healthcare 1199NW is a union of over 30,000 nurses and healthcare workers throughout hospitals, clinics, mental health facilities, skilled home health and hospice programs in Washington State and Montana. Their mission is to advocate for quality healthcare and good jobs for all.