Replacement caregivers will help ensure Swedish continues to provide high-quality, safe care.
Swedish leaders assured the community today that the nonprofit health care provider will continue to serve the needs of its patients and their families during a three-day strike called by SEIU 1199NW. The union represents approximately 7,800 registered nurses, technical and service caregivers employed by Swedish Medical Center and Swedish Edmonds. SEIU notified Swedish today of its plan to conduct a strike starting at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, January 28 through 7:30 a.m. Friday, January 31.
“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,” said CEO Dr. Guy Hudson. “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.”
After more than nine months of bargaining, the Swedish and SEIU bargaining teams met in intensive negotiations, with the support of federal mediators, every day and night from Sunday, January 5, through Friday, January 10. Bargaining resumed Monday, January 13, with Swedish putting forward a new and even stronger package that addresses caregivers’ concerns without agreeing to demands from the union that are unreasonable and unworkable.
The Swedish package that SEIU rejected includes these elements:
- 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. Swedish has proposed adding new positions address specific needs that have been identified at its hospitals as well as a stronger voice for caregivers in the staffing committee process that determines appropriate staffing levels for the units.”
The union is demanding wage increases of more than 23% over the four-year contract period and that Swedish management transfer authority over staffing decisions to the union, which would go against state law and grant SEIU an authority that no other healthcare union has. The union has been unrelenting on this staffing demand, which is unworkable and would be unprecedented for any hospital to accept.
“We acknowledge that staffing issues are important,” said Bykonen. “We must work together to find long-term solutions to challenges such as recruiting enough nurses into the pipeline, retaining qualified staff and continuing to upskill our workforce.”
Dr. Hudson reinforced Swedish’s commitment to its caregivers. “Our caregivers are the backbone of the care our community counts on,” he said. “They provide the bedside support that makes the care at Swedish so exceptional. We support our people and we’re here for them. That’s why our proposal was comprehensive and provides what our caregivers and their families need.”
Swedish is prepared for a strike
To prepare for a strike, Swedish has contracted with agencies to supplement the non-striking workforce with highly qualified and experienced replacement caregivers to ensure it continues to deliver patient care, which is standard industry practice during a strike.
“In keeping with our mission, our community can count on us to continue providing the high-quality, safe, compassionate care that our patients expect and deserve,” said Dr. Hudson. “The union’s actions will not distract from our focus on serving patients and their loved ones who rely on us.”
Swedish’s bargaining team has worked diligently to avoid a strike by modifying its offer in response to feedback from the union and improving its benefits package throughout the bargaining process. Swedish worked with federal mediators in hopes of coming to resolution with SEIU over terms of a new contract. The union’s previous contract expired on June 30, 2019.
Swedish will notify patients of any service changes during the strike period.
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Founded in 1910, Swedish is the largest non-profit health provider in the Greater Seattle area. It is composed of five hospital campuses (First Hill, Cherry Hill, Ballard, Edmonds and Issaquah); ambulatory care centers in Redmond and Mill Creek; and a network of more than 100 primary care and specialty-care clinics located throughout the Greater Puget Sound area. Swedish is known as a regional referral center, providing specialized treatment in areas such as cardiovascular care, cancer care, neuroscience, orthopedics, high-risk obstetrics, pediatric specialties, organ transplantation and clinical research. In 2018, Swedish provided more than $237 million in community benefit programs, including $23.8 million in free and discounted care in Western Washington.