“The parties are too far apart”: Swedish health care workers give notice of planned strike Jan 28-30

In a roundtable briefing Friday, nurses and caregivers of SEIU [Service Employees International Union] Healthcare 1199 NW at Swedish-Providence announced they were delivering a 10-day notice of intent to strike Jan. 28-30 “if proposals adequately addressing patient safety and staffing levels are not forthcoming.”

The bargaining team “has concluded that the parties are too far apart,” the union said in a statement issued Friday morning. The workers have been without a contract since July.

In the briefing, four Swedish Medical Center nurses and caregivers represented by SEIU shared their experiences of patient safety and workplace issues at Swedish. You can watch the recording of the livestream here.

The union statement announcing the strike said that caregivers believe” they have provided management every opportunity to do what’s right, but that management continues to prioritize profits over patient care. The union called for management to be held accountable “for its continued unfair labor practices such as the unlawful termination of team members for protected union activity.”

The union said it has presented management “with a robust package of proposals that lay out a roadmap for success in safe staffing, workplace safety, recruitment and retention, racial equity and inclusion for all, and providing for the needs of environmental service workers, social workers, counselors and caregivers who provide standby and call.”

You can review the union’s summary of its proposals here.

“Providence [with which Swedish is affiliated] is a $24 billion corporation that sits on an $11 billion cash reserve,” the union said. “The corporation can afford to provide good benefits and wages to the nurses and health care workers it employs and should start treating its employees fairly. When employees…are treated fairly, patient care and safety will improve.”

The strike will involve an estimated 8,000 Swedish heath care workers, with approximately 1,300 of those — both nurses and technical staff — working at Swedish Edmonds, said SEIU spokesperson Amy Clark.

According to Clark, agreements have been reached with other Providence affiliates, leaving Swedish as the one holdout.  The strike is planned run for three days, Jan. 26-30, “because our health care providers want to get back to their patients,” Clark said.

In response, Swedish expressed “disappointment” with the strike notice, and pledged to keep door open to serve patients during the strike.

“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,” said Swedish CEO Dr. Guy Hudson.

According to Swedish, the package that SEIU rejected includes:

  • An across-the-board 11.25% wage increase over the four-year contract, including an immediate 3% increase that is retroactive to July 1, 2019, which puts Swedish at the top of the market
  • Wage increases that would lift the average salary of a Swedish caregiver working full-time to more than $70,000, and the average Swedish nurse salary into six figures by July 2020
  • A zero-premium PPO medical plan for full-time caregivers, and their covered family members, who make up to $60,000 in income from Swedish (saving eligible caregivers an average of $1,100 per year)
  • No premium or deductible increases for the Swedish PPO medical plan over the life of the contract
  • A new child and elder care benefit to support employees who need back-up care for a sick child or family member
  • A continuation of Swedish’s vacation and sick leave program in response to the union’s feedback
  • A commitment to address our staffing challenges, by giving caregivers a stronger voice in staffing decisions, recruitment efforts and creating a more inclusive and equitable workplace

“We place tremendous value in our caregivers, and we are proud that Swedish has offered a wages and benefits package that puts our represented caregivers at or near top of market,” said Margo Bykonen, Swedish Chief Nursing Officer.

The Swedish statement said that the union has been “unrelenting” in demanding that Swedish management transfer authority over staffing decisions to the union, which Swedish maintains “goes against state law.”

To prepare for the strike, Swedish says it has contracted with agencies to supplement their non-striking workforce with highly qualified and experienced replacement caregivers.

Swedish says it will notify patients of any service changes during the strike period.

— By Larry Vogel


  1. None of the bullet points are safety related. I’ll listen to the testimony Monday.

    The strike itself sounds unsafe for patients. Is the union the real safety concern?

  2. Regarding the proposal presented by SEIU, the “safety” section just lists that they want 24-7 armed guards and metal detectors. That’s their safety concern? Are schools unsafe if they dont have armed guards and metal detectors at all entrances?

    Self-identified SEIU workers in this very forum have said that Sweedush was unsafe because it provided poor care.

  3. I’d like to reply in response to Matt Richardson’s comments.
    Thank you for posting.
    I am currently sitting in the Emergency Department, in which I’m a charge nurse, discussing your comments with the entire staff – doctors, social work, environmental services, nurses, and technicians. I work downtown but live in Edmonds.
    We want you to know the following and perhaps can shed some light for others in Edmonds to be informed and be further educated on our situation:

    1. First and foremost – your safety concern for patients while health care workers are striking is a common and appropriate question, glad you brought it up – Providence has been barganing for 9 months with 8 intensive days of bargaining in Jan 2020 for a contract with us. Providence has had time to find experienced nurses and other health care workers to cover this federally protected right to strike. We are not abandoning our patients – people may think it’s morally wrong to strike – but we feel it’s morally wrong to not strike and stand up for egregious things happening in front of us FOR YEARS! 3 days of striking is uncomfortable, yes, but continuing to keep things status quo is a disservice to you and your family, your community.
    Things that are unsafe include:
    Staffing: ex: not enough nurses to get medications on time, turn patients on time, increase in mistakes due to large nurse to patient ratios, falls leading to head bleeds and broken bones because there are no staff to assist pts to toilet. – thousands of stories could be told. Having good staffing ratios is not only important for pt’s but helps create an environment that is a good place to work, which keeps nurses and workers happy and hence they stay preventing further staffing holes and having excellent staff retetnion.
    Yes, those of us in the ED would like metal detectors and a 24 hour security officer- did you know that police departments bring criminals, psychotic patients, distraught in-crisis pt (alot are related to drug intoxications) and terribly controlled mental health issues, violent patients to the ED and drop them off? The police do not stay. It’s the EDs that have to handle these violent patients. Just this past year I personally had to have a restraining order on a patient with homicidal threats specific to me and my family (yes, my kids schools had to be included in the restraining order and the pt was held in jail for over 3 months for this threat). We had multiple staff members scratched, punched, kicked, choked and one sexually assulted. The horrific profanity and racial slurs we have gotten used to enduring – however the threat to our safety our family and other patients safety we will never get used to, so if we feel that having a metal detector could help elieviate some other unforseen disaster (like a gun) we should have it, period.

    We encourage our community not only in Edmonds but all over King and Snohomish County to come talk to us as we picket at ALL Swedish locations. We are happy to tell our stories and to tell you why we are puting our lives on hold, our finances on hold for what we believe in – to keep all of us safe.
    I also would like to encourage our newly elected Mayor of Edmonds and ALL Edmonds City Council members to come to our strike and listen to why we are striking and sacrificing for our commmuntiy.

    Being sick is the biggest equalizer to us all. One day you will be ill and find yourself at the mercy of the medical community – wouldn’t you want the best care imaginable, wouldn’t you want a nurse to be able to attend to you within minutes of your call, wouldn’t you want to know that the room you are in after a surgery was cleaned the right way to ensure you will be infection free? Wouldn’t you like to know that there is a security officer in the ED keeping you safe? I would hope that every person reading this would answer yes.

    1. Thank you nurse Shaw for taking the time to provide this insight, and thank you for looking after many of our friends and family in this community.

    2. Is Edmonds a particularly dangerous community where armed guards and metal detectors are required? How do metal detectors prevent nurses from being choked, sexually assaulted, racially harassed?

      Could the hospital hire more nurses if they paid you less? It really seems as though the union wants to be paid more, which makes bringing on more staff a compounded issue.

      What I’m hearing is that it’s a real s-show at Sweedish and it doesnt sound like metal detectors and few extra nurses is going to fix it. I got great care at Sweedish at a reasonable price, but my one experience is perhaps anecdotal. Only in a America can workers poison a well like this and not be canned.

      1. Hire more nurses if they pay us less? Thats your solution? Nurses in Oregon make more than Swedish nurses. With the cost of living in Seattle as high as it is if we were paid less we wouldn’t be able to pay rent.

        1. In the Office, Daryl asked Micheal Scott for a raise because Roy got fired and he was taking on more work, and working more hours. It’s a harder argument to say, “Hire more people and pay us all more so I don’t have to work as hard but get paid more” I’m telling you that it’s a poor negotiating position.

    3. Thanks wendy for opening the eyes of some of these ivory sitting nay sayers. I work in the ER for 9 years and it is getting worse and worse, drugs, mental health, suicidal, homicidal. They all come here in our ER. we watch 6 suicidal pts at once do to short staffing, we had an RN get her breasts fondled by a homeless man. We got spit on. Shit on, seamen thrown on us no security. People say oo how dare we strike. I say to them how dare you to judge if you are not in the battle zone we face every day.

      1. You’re striking against your patients? Social Workers deal with more of those things than nurses, and get paid practically nothing. I know social workers who get paid less than it costs them to drive to work. All those things are horrible, but metal detectors aren’t going to fix that and it doesn’t sound like paying you more would make you like your job better. This is the propper way to tell people you’re not happy with your career choice?

        1. We are not striking against our patients we are striking for our patients. We love our career choice, if we didn’t we wouldn’t be fighting hard for the conditions we feel are essential for all patients to have. We feel that it’s not ok to see something and say nothing. Are the metal detectors the be all end all to ED safety, of course not. Does it help with safety when put together with all the other security measures, yes it does. You seem to be in the anti-metal detector camp, care to share why?
          I have many social workers who would be happy to speak with you – come on down to the strike line- we will all be there as this strike also heavily focuses on social work.

          Actually, happy to discuss with anyone! We love being nurses and love taking care of our community.

        2. Some could argue that nurse could get paid less for the sake of the patients, that way they can more easily afford healthcare. I’m, pro metal detectors and armed guards. If it works for adult nurses, who are highly trained and qualified to deal with estranged patients, then a teacher or two should be armed at every school. This argument is taking place in the public forum, and in that hemisphere the kids are more important from a Triage perspective. It seems as though the hospital wants to give the nurses less than they want, so striking is how to resolve this? Work at another hospital, or become a nurse-practitioner.

  4. Our family spent several weeks at Edmonds Swedish visiting loved ones in the ICU, ER, and the hospital in October. We experienced, firsthand, the care and concern, patience and professionalism, experience and excellence the entire staff provided our family. They earned our appreciation and gratitude and we just cannot thank them enough. The nursing staff go far beyond expectations, and we want to say THANK YOU and you have our support.

  5. Matt Richardson you have no idea what you are talking about in regards to hiring of Nursing . Paying nurses less to hire more ? Highly skilled well educated RNs do not come cheap and a RN is really not fully trained til after at least 2 years of practice and seasoned RN after 5 years of practice or more . I myself have been a nurse educator and have worked the floors from medical to Cardiothoracic,IMCU, and Neuro units at 4 campus in the Multi Campus Float Pool have worked for Swedish for 20 plus years 13 of those in Multi Campus Float pool . I have seen first hand the shortages and what types of challenging patients have exposed RNs to emotional and physical violence along with risk of injury and actual injury’s from to high of Nurse to patient care ratio. Imagine if your Nurse has 5-6 patients and so do all the other nurses the ability for that nurse to meet all care needs bathing , dressing , feeding , wound care , pain management , medication delivery and not to mention emotional support to patients and there families . Your experience at Swedish May have been a good one as I hope it was but can you speak for yourself feed yourself and advocate for yourself? Nurses are patient advocates especially for those without voices and family and friends to care for them . When a nurse cannot advocate for the patients they care for negative outcomes occur . Many studies have been done on this . California has proven safe patient to nurse ratios improve patient outcomes 1-4 ratio . This strike is also not just about nursing but all the support systems around care . Housekeeping , nurses aides, pharmacy techs, nutrition techs . It takes a village to run a hospital and to deliver excellent care means all the villagers are respected for the contributions they make .Adminstration verbalizing this means nothing it must be demonstrated in a financial and benefit package that leads in the community attracting talent and leaders to work for the organization. It is not enough to just meet standards or just below standards of care . Safety both emotional and physical for caregivers has been a big focus with laws passing in Washington making it a crime to attack or threaten caregivers . These laws came in to place because it is a daily threat whether the community sees it or not . I encourage all communities to look at what’s happening at Swedish . The strike has not been something that the staff wanted and many fear retaliation not just by administration but by the community who do not walk in the shoes of caregivers on a daily basis . Keep an open mind support the people that care for the village in which you live from cook to housekeeper or nurse .

    1. Nursing is a tough job. More safe than trash-collectors, easier and higher paid than social workers. Highly skilled nurses could work in Oregon where apparently they are paid much better. A strike doesn’t seem civilized in this situation. In other threads Sweedish teamsters are saying the hospital is unsafe and for people not to go there. This is classic poisoning of the well.

      Budget = Pay_Per_Worker * Num_Workers + Cost_of_Metal_Detectors

      Budget is a constant. Do the math.

    2. If you have firsthand experience with family in Edmonds Swedish then you may a completely different opinion of the staff. “People say” seems vague and not a serious attempt to have a true discussion of the issues here. Our family has had several recent situations in ICU and ER and we will forever be grateful for the outstanding care.

  6. I’m not sure of how many trash collectors are called into court on a yearly basis to testify against threats, continuation of restaining orders, and violence against other health care workers but I know how many times my co-workers have. I also feel like the only person poisoning the well is you – not sure why you are not asking clarifying questions, but rather making comments that are derisive and seem to come from lack of education of how emergency departments operate.
    Why are you so against places having metal dectors? Would you not want them screening people going on your flight somewhere? They are good enough for TSA.
    The strike is about many things and first and foremost is staffing levels. It’s not about being paid more and taking care of less patients – it’s getting the hospital to have adequate staffing in the first place.

    Lastly, comparing nursing to social workers is not the same and I won’t go into a diatribe about the differences, however, I certainly wouldn’t want a social worker running my cardiac arrest.

    You are coming across to your community as disgruntled – are you a social worker? Are you part of Swedish Providence?
    Are you trying to listen to issues or are you trying to sway people to not supporting health care workers?
    What exactly are you trying to accomplish? Want more information? Come talk to the nurses picketing – they will gladly answer your questions.

    1. Trash-Collecting is arguably the most important job in society, and might be the most dangerous job in WA too. I’m making a point about perspective. You’re in the news because you might strike because you feel like you’re doing too much work for too little money. It’s like seeing a mom and dad divorce and drag the kids (patients) through it, all out in the public. Refuse collectors aren’t in the news complaining about their life choices. They’re holding it down.

      I got care at Sweedish, thought it was great. I’m imagining that a minority of folks there is causing all this noise.

      1. Well you lucked out Matt. My wife was in Swedish 20 years ago for 10 days when it was Stevens and she received great treatment.
        In Feb 2016 she went in for what was supposed to be two weeks. She came home from rehab 5 1/2 months later! She recovered from her original operation right on schedule, then they gave her pneumonia that almost killed her and when she recovered from that they almost killed her with a different dose of pneumonia. I spent about 10 hours there every day and observed that the nursing staff was competent as well as conscientious, but there simply was just not enough of them. She was there again in 2018 for 10 days and the situation that I observed was the same

        1. You’re experience is systemic Ron. Medical Malpractice is the 3rd (maybe even 2nd) cause of death, now beating car accidents.

          “Having too many nurses/doctors” killed my grandmother. One doctor treated her for a stomach ulcer. Another doctor gave her blood thinners for other reasons. The ulcer popped and she died not long after being given meds. If there were one doctor, I doubt this would have happened because things wouldn’t of been lost in communication. It is what it is.

          The system is broken, mostly because it’s mostly socialized. But we’re talking about a strike over metal detectors. If Swedish is a public safety concern, the Governor should step in. I think it’s mostly upset teamsters spreading dirty laundry.

  7. Mr Richardson
    I’m quite amused by your responses. and I’m teetering on whether you are an expert at being a social media gadfly or if I’m detecting the whiff of an entitled libertarian. Either way, I know my acquaintance reached out to you and perhaps I’ll have the fun of finding out with a tête à tête soon enough.

    1. I’ve got problems. The hospital owners/investors/admin aren’t picketing. They’re not in MEN comments defending their hospital over this impass. Making a public spectacle over what seems to be just a pay raise is poisoning the well. People are saying the hospital is unsafe. People are saying the customers (patients) are the worst. I’m imagining a pizza shop where the workers want a raise and picket, saying the pizza is moldy and the customers are horrible. If all that is true, why work there? Who’s gonna eat there now? It’s lose-lose.

  8. A piece written by one voice of 8,000 which states so eloquently what we all as Swedish health care workers are feeling at this moment. 

    I have been struggling to find the words. Because there are too many of them. And frankly, my feelings are involved. But Providence hasn’t listened to our prayers. And Swedish wishes to silence us. So I plead to my people…. It wasn’t until I started working in healthcare That I realized how little they do “CARE” How can you hurt your healers And call it healthcare? Long 12 hour PLUS shifts, day & night with unsafe staffing. Without breaks, without the opportunity to eat. For shifts on end. For months on end. For far too long. And you expect us to be able to provide the best care? SAFE CARE? After not being able to eat adequately for days? or sleep? Thanks to the stress, anxiety, and trauma we endure? Nurses get choked, yelled at, spit on, hit at, exposed to needles, bed bugs, and disease. This isn’t just about a nursing shortage, when they can’t even keep the nurses they do have employed. The turn over rate is unsustainable. Their greed is intolerable. We sacrifice our personal lives and families to come in and work extra so our colleagues won’t drown. We have sacrificed our physical health to work long and hard hours for our patients. We sacrifice our mental health in order to care for our hurting community. They sick and dying. The dead. The injured. The shot. The mentally ill. The women and children. The homeless. The veterans. The addicted. The having a bad day. The having a baby. The miscarrying. Because that’s what real healers and healthcare workers do. For the love and passion of people. They selflessly sacrifice for the greater good of humanity. And now we willingly sacrifice our money. Our time. Our energy. To strike. To rebel against this madness. They’ve taken some of the most loving, giving, caring, selfless, hard working people and broken them down until they feel they have no option but to walk away? But don’t mistake our kindness for weakness. Eight thousand people feel like their only choice is to walk away from their patients. This is radical. This is a REVOLUTION for healthcare REFORMATION. If you can’t take care of your caretakers, who are you really taking care of? Because while you think you’ve been starving us, you’ve really only fed our spirit to fight. They act like this is wage war. But it’s actually a fight for human life. They’re killing people. And selling it as healthcare. Providence hasn’t listened to our prayers. And Swedish wishes to silence us. But the power. Will always be with the people. And for the people. This strike is coming. And they will hear the thunder of our marching. #UNIONSTRONG

    1. “They’re killing people. And selling it as healthcare.”

      I don’t believe this, and a strike isn’t appropriate response if this is true – it would be a class-action and intervention from the governor. #GETSOMECOUCELING #QUITANDWORKSOMEWHERELESE

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