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Swedish nurses strike highlights staffing, security concerns

Caregivers' union went on strike for three days after contract negotiations broke down


February 6, 2020

Laura Johnson

Edmonds City Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas posed for a picture at Swedish Edmonds in front of security, who prevented some employees from entering after a three-day strike.

Several Swedish nurses were told to stay home after their three-day strike ended Friday, Jan. 31. Guards even stood in front of doors, disallowing entrance.

But for others, Friday morning was their first day back to work.

Swedish spent $11 million to hire thousands of replacement workers during the strike, and a spokesperson said they were hired to work for five days. Since the union's strike was only for three days, hospital management said that not everyone would be needed to return to work after the strike was scheduled to end.

In Edmonds, striking workers lined 76th Avenue West in front of Swedish Edmonds, joined by a number of local politicians, including Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson and Edmonds City Council president Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and fellow councilmember Laura Johnson.

What led up to the strike

Nurses, environmental service technicians, and other staff went on strike at Swedish Edmonds at 7 a.m. Jan. 28, along with other union members at all Swedish campuses.

SEIU 1199NW is the union that represents nurses, environmental service technicians, and other staff at Swedish hospitals. Union leaders gave Swedish their 10-day strike notice Jan. 17.

After the union gave notice of their strike, Swedish pulled its latest offer back and said it would not return to the bargaining table until after the strike was over.

One of the sticking points between the union and Swedish was wages.

Hospital management's latest offer had included an 11.25% pay raise over the duration of the new, four-year contract. The union's proposal asked for a 23.25% wage increase during the four-year contract.

However, the main issue that came up in multiple interviews with union members was staffing.

Nurses and environmental service technicians both said that consistent understaffing led to concern about overwork and patient and staff safety.

"I've had patients threaten to kill me, I've had patients hold their fists up at me and threatening to punch me," said Wendy Powers, an emergency room nurse at Swedish Edmonds. "We had a patient bring in a razor blade, and they managed to hide it from security when they were searched," she said. "We find an increasing need to have increased security presence and metal detectors at the door to protect our patients and our staff."

Staffing and recruitment efforts were addressed in bargaining, but each side did not see eye to eye about how to solve the problems.

According to Swedish CEO Guy Hudson, the hospitals had been operating at an 11% vacancy rate.

Emily Gilbert

Brett Stellman, a medical laboratory technologist at Swedish Edmonds, and his son, Nate, on strike at the hospital.

"We are currently in a very, very difficult environment (in) Puget Sound in regards to just the overall workforce of health care. Every organization that I talk with, and other CEOs around Puget Sound, are having the same issues with hiring qualified work staff just because there are not a lot of professionals out there to hire," he said.

Next steps

In a statement, Swedish management in Seattle said it was not locking out workers, which would be a violation of federal labor law, and said they had informed workers about the arrangement.

The hospital said it would be at the bargaining table after the strike ended.

"We have made it very clear, because we gave such a good package of proposals, that if they came to strike, all bets were off the table and we would have to start negotiating again," Mona Locke, a Swedish spokesperson, said during a news conference.

When asked if that meant the hospital would be starting over she replied, "Somewhat."

– Edmonds Beacon Editor Brian Soergel contributed to this story.


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