Nearly 8,000 nurses and other providers at Swedish Health Services in the Seattle area plan to strike beginning at 7 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28, through Thursday, Jan. 30.
In response, the health system said it plans to close two of its seven emergency departments and one of its labor and delivery units, after being unable to secure adequate temporary staffing. The system's Ballard and Redmond emergency departments closed Monday, Jan. 27, and will reopen on Friday, Jan. 31. The Ballard labor and delivery unit closed Saturday, Jan. 25, and will reopen Friday.
The parties, which include nursing assistants, techs, lab workers, dietary workers and others represented by SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, have been bargaining for more than nine months, with intensive negotiations taking place earlier this month.
The union says Swedish, which is under the umbrella of Providence St. Joseph Health, has rejected its calls for safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, manageable workloads for environmental service technicians, safeguards against racial discrimination and fair wages. The nurses and other providers said in a news release the strike is their "last resort" to protect patient safety. The staffers claim that ever since Providence assumed control of the hospital, workers have struggled with increased turnover and understaffing.
In response, Swedish said SEIU rejected a package it offered on Jan. 13 that included an across-the-board 11.25% wage increase over the four-year contract—enough to lift the average full-time Swedish provider salary to more than $70,000, and the average Swedish nurse salary into the six figures by July 2020—among other elements. Swedish did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the union's allegations.
"We are disappointed that the union has decided to call a strike despite Swedish putting forward a wages and benefits proposal that is one of the strongest packages offered by a health care employer in our region, and one that reflects our deep commitment to our people," Swedish CEO, Dr. Guy Hudson, said in a statement. "Throughout the bargaining process, we have consistently made good-faith proposals that value our caregivers, support our community and reinforce why Swedish is one of the best places to work."