This story has been updated with additional information from Swedish and SEIU Healthcare 1199NW.
An estimated 300 health care workers gathered at the Swedish Edmonds hospital campus Friday morning for a 7 a.m. rally marking an end to a three-day strike, during which approximately 7800 hospital employees walked off the job protesting what their union — SEIU Healthcare 1199NW — calls unsafe, unfair and unacceptable working conditions.
Joining the workers were Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson, City Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and City Councilmember Laura Johnson.
“I’ve met with the workers and heard about conditions in the hospital, and it’s just not right,” said Nelson. “I’ve always supported our frontline workers – firefighters, police, medics, nurses. You can never do more with less, and we see this theme running through all these different fields of work. When you do this, it puts peoples’ care and safety in jeopardy.”
Fraley-Monillas added she was attending “to support the workers as they return from their three-day strike. Frankly I don’t think they’re asking too much — safe working conditions for the patients and for them. I want management to get back to the table and continue the negotiating process. Our community needs Swedish in Edmonds.”
As word of the strike spreads, “support for these workers is going beyond local,” the council president added, noting that Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden have all tweeted out their support.
To maintain operations during the strike, Swedish says it flew in “thousands” of replacement workers, many of whom were promised five-day contracts. Despite this, Swedish closed the emergency departments at Ballard and Redmond, as well as Ballard Labor and Delivery, referring patients to other facilities.
Swedish also reported that on day one of the strike “nearly 1,100 caregivers chose to come to work in support of our patients.” But according to the union, “nearly all Swedish-Providence caregivers are participating in the strike.”
In a statement issued Friday morning, Swedish spokesperson Tiffany Moss said that the hospital would “bring [striking] caregivers back as work becomes available and we are actively notifying them about reporting to work. The two-day transition – after the strike officially ends at 7:30 a.m. Friday, Jan. 31 – is designed to minimize patient disruption as patient census grows and work becomes available.”
Moss added that “our position in this regard is not new, and has been communicated to SEIU since the union delivered its strike notice on Jan. 17.”
According to Swedish, 2,000 of the estimated 7,800 striking employees returned to their jobs on Friday.
In a Friday morning press release, the union calls this a “partial lockout,” maintaining that it is a violation of federal labor law.
“I tried to go back to work caring for my patients, but management told me not to come back until Sunday,” said Tyler Hartman, an emergency department tech at Swedish Edmonds. “It’s really sad and shocking, because management diverted patients away from our emergency department as they just didn’t have the qualified staff for many procedures. Hundreds of my coworkers are locked out throughout the whole hospital. Swedish-Providence would rather punish caregivers than ensure safe access to emergency care for our community, and that’s hurting our entire area.
“The permanent staff are the healthcare subject matter experts for our local demographic, and we’re also the local experts for our units. In emergency care, minutes and seconds are crucial, so I really hope Swedish-Providence lets us back as soon as possible to ensure safe, quality care,” he continued.
In a press release issued later in the day, Swedish responded with the following:
“Despite what the union says, we are not engaged in an unlawful lockout. Swedish contracted with our vendors for a five-day replacement period, which was communicated to SEIU before the union delivered its strike notice on Jan. 17. We also sent a postcard (see accompanying image) to every represented caregiver’s home stating this arrangement, sent out internal messaging in our weekly newsletter and posted the information on our intranet, all prior to the strike period.”
But for many strikers, getting back to work and getting a fair settlement remain paramount.
“Management has also said they’re going to lock us out of our jobs for two days, which feels like they’re trying to punish us financially for our patient advocacy,” said Whittney Powers, a registered nurse in the Swedish Edmonds emergency room. “This is a slap in the face, and we feel betrayed and devalued. We’re eager to get back to work caring for our patients, and to get back to negotiating a fair contract which ensures safe patient care. There’s a lot of healing and rebuilding of trust needed at Swedish-Providence after how they’ve treated the frontline staff.”
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel