8000 Healthcare workers protest through the streets of Seattle
On Tuesday morning, nearly 8,000 nurses, nursing assistants, lab workers, environmental service technicians, dietary workers, clerks, and other hospital staff launched their first-ever strike — in a healthcare labor stoppage their union is hailing as the largest of its kind in the nation in at least five years. The workers, members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, have been protesting their region’s largest medical center, Swedish-Providence, which has resisted their demands for increased staffing levels and higher wages over nine months at the bargaining table.
There is a universal fight, a Class struggle, a fight for workers rights that’s reflected throughout the world
Over 15,000 nurses at hospitals including Seattle’s Swedish Medical Center voted to approve a strike Friday, citing “multiple unfair labor practices,” punishment from management for participating in union activity, insufficient staffing, and more.
“We want equity wages and health care benefits, and we want more than ever to do this through a racial justice lens,” Swedish Cherry Hill charge nurse Delores Prescott told KIRO Radio’s Candy, Mike and Todd Show. “We want equity and inclusion for all — that’s for patients as well as ourselves.”
— SEIUHealthcare1199NW (@SEIU1199NW) January 29, 2020
Whats behind the strike?
One nurse stated on her social media post : “I’m proud to be part of a team of people who will unite and fight for what is right. We are standing up for patient safety. We’re fighting to put peoples’ lives before money and profit. And we are uniting to make our work environment a safe place where EVERYONE is respected and treated with dignity.
This was not an easy decision. I hate that I’ve had to walk away from my patients. My patients give me such joy and taking care of them is my calling. It’s not just a job for me. But Providence is not responding to our plea to provide more staff so that we can provide safe patient care.
I have too many firsthand stories of days that I have worked when I knew I couldn’t provide my best to my patients because we were all stretched too thin. Or staying an extra 4-5 hours on top of my 12 hour shift because I didn’t want to leave my patients without a nurse. Providence has sadly pushed many of us to this point where we feel the only thing we can do to make a difference is to strike. And I really hope they finally listen. It’s so simple. Put lives before money. This is what we’re fighting for.”
Healthcare – SEIU – Service Employees International Union
SEIU Healthcare 1199NW’s collective bargaining agreement with Swedish Medical Center expired June 30. It was extended through the end of July. Bargaining has been ongoing since April. Workers picketed in August, before voting to strike on Friday.
And while Swedish qualifies the proposals it has on the table as “strong,” the hospital’s nursing staff doesn’t agree.
“At one time, Swedish was a place where it was comfortable and safe to work — the bosses seemed like they cared.” said Prescott. “We’re feeling today that patient safety, staff retention, and recruitment are not the bosses’ interests.”
The hospital had recently eliminated a team of nurses trained specifically to apply IVs to patients. Without that team, she describes a process to administer IVs that take as many as three to four tries from overworked, understaffed nurses.
A news release from the union further alleges that nurses had been terminated for union activity, and that “the best quality care is no longer Swedish-Providence’s top priority.”
“As nurses, we train to be nurses because we want to give safe care to all patients. But how can we do that when we’re not given the tools that we need?” Prescott posited.
A statement released by Swedish notes that the hospital is “disappointed” in SEIU 1199NW decision to strike, and that the move would “not only represent a step backwards in our negotiations but could prove disruptive to patients who count on us for their care.”
While the workers have made clear since the start of their strike that they will return to work on Friday morning — in part because they could only afford to forego pay for three days — their employer has shelled out at least $11 million to fly replacement workers in from across the country, and suggested that many employees will be kept out of their jobs for an additional two days. During the strike, Swedish-Providence has closed two of its seven emergency departments, and one of its labor and delivery units.
The strike is unfolding with the backdrop of a national political battle over health care, soaring health insurance costs, and a growing shortage of nurses and other hospital workers across the country.
Solidarity for the strikers has not been thin on the ground. The firefighters, the cops, the engineers, and Nicole Grant, executive secretary-treasurer of the MLK Labor Council, all showed up Tuesday morning to lend their support.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg have tweeted in support of the strikers, and members of both the Warren and Sanders campaigns mobilised their Washington state supporters to join the picket line.
Also looming over the labor strike is the coronavirus: The first U.S. case was reported on January 21 in Snohomish County, just north of Seattle. “The virus is spreading, and we do not have the support to do real infection prevention,” said Editha Donovan, an environmental services technician at Swedish-Providence who has spent the last 17 years working to safely disinfect hospital rooms. According to KIRO-FM radio, a Seattle-Tacoma station, 43 people in Washington state had close contact with the patient before he received his diagnosis.