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Aug. 13, 2021

Amy Clark

Unsafe working conditions, patient safety top the agenda

TUKWILA– Secretary of Labor Martin J. Walsh held a listening session today with nurses and healthcare workers at Cascade Behavioral Health, many of whom have been on a safety strike this month due to abnormally unsafe working conditions in the hospital.

Secretary Walsh joined the workers from Washington, D.C. via Zoom. The secretary heard from workers about the unsafe working conditions at the hospital, the impact on patient care and their hopes for a safe workplace.

“I was injured in the incident that happened August 1, which forced us to strike for our safety. I have been traumatized,” said Sara Moallin, a registered nurse and member of the SEIU Healthcare 1199NW bargaining team at Cascade. “I feel like my coworkers and I have been abandoned. Cascade isn’t safe place to work anymore because management has failed to create a safe work environment, and because law enforcement refuses to come to the hospital when we call for their help.”

“Yes, we can get jobs elsewhere, but any other human being could walk into that building and face that same danger that my friends and I faced, and we are standing up so that this won’t happen ever again,” said Eiob Teklie, a Mental Health Tech at Cascade. “Cascade and Acadia must stop putting profits over patients. We live in a land of law where everyone’s rights and safety are protected, but I don’t think this company is living by the law when they put money before their employees, and before their patients.”

“Because of the shortcomings the employer has created, it has gotten to the point that we cannot take it anymore,” said Biniman Berhe, a registered nurse and member of the SEIU Healthcare 1199NW bargaining team at Cascade. “We need Cascade to hire security staff and we need management to fix the short staffing. But because Cascade has failed to keep our workplace safe, we know it is possible for us to get injured at any time.”

The nurses and healthcare workers of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW at Cascade Behavioral Health in Tukwila care for some of the most vulnerable psychiatric and chemical dependency patients in our community. But instead of prioritizing safe patient care or treating workers with respect, Cascade parent company Acadia Healthcare has fostered an abnormally unsafe work environment, with severe understaffing, decrepit facilities, a shocking lack of COVID-19 protections, and escalating, unchecked workplace violence.

Cascade’s failure to invest in security, combined with the Tukwila police department’s decision not to come into the hospital due to recent legal changes, has created a dangerous environment where workers and patients lack protection. On August 1, after an incident of preventable workplace violence hospitalized one worker, injured others, and threatened the safety of numerous patients, many workers at Cascade felt they had no choice but to go on a safety strike until Cascade provides security.

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW has filed more than a dozen unfair labor practice charges against Cascade, including 10 for participation in protected, concerted activity to improve the safety conditions of their workplace. The union will likely file many more as Cascade continues to terminate these healthcare workers for protected activity.

Workers have proposed hiring security staff and improving staffing levels as measures to address the unsafe working conditions; Cascade management has failed to respond.





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