Nearly 8,000 Swedish nurses, health workers in Seattle begin strike
After Swedish hospital campuses in Ballard and Redmond temporarily closed their emergency departments in preparation for a strike, nurses, caregivers, and health workers have taken to the picket line Tuesday.
Almost 8,000 Swedish hospital nurses, caregivers, and other health workers began striking Tuesday at 7 a.m., for an effort that will continue through Thursday, Jan. 30. Picketing employees will return to work at 7:30 a.m. Friday.
Swedish’s Ballard and Redmond emergency departments — as well as its Labor and Delivery unit in Ballard — closed Monday in preparation for the staffing shortages brought on by the strike.
To keep hospital operations going, Swedish has flown in thousands of nurses from across the country to the Seattle area. The nurses have been in town for a few days and have undergone extensive training, according to Swedish.
It’s unknown how many nurses and hospital workers will actually cross the picket line to work, so Swedish management said it had to make the decision to close the ERs early for patient safety reasons. Swedish’s five other emergency departments — First Hill, Cherry Hill, Issaquah, Edmonds and Mill Creek — will remain open during the strike.
Workers in the SEUI Healthcare 1199NW union at Swedish officially submitted their 10-day notice of intent to strike at a press conference on Jan. 17. The union cited the strike as “a last resort in the fight for patients’ safety,” pointing to deteriorating conditions it claims began with a takeover by Providence made official in 2012.
“When Swedish was an independent hospital, we recruited and retained the very best staff, but now Providence is constantly making us do more with fewer resources,” said Ashley Bower, an ICU nurse at Swedish First Hill.
Bower points to the fact that the ICU step-down unit (the team responsible for intermediate medical care between the ICU and general surgical ward) has just one resource nurse for as many as 32 patients at a time.
“These cuts have resulted in real suffering for our patients and it’s heartbreaking,” she noted.
While the hospital has qualified its collective bargaining proposal as “strong,” Swedish workers have accused bosses of breaking federal labor laws, retaliating for participation in union activity, surveilling employees, and intimidating staff members. The union also cites staffing issues that have left many overworked.
Swedish health care workers had originally set a Jan. 14 date to strike, before opting to postpone after progress was made in negotiations. That progress has since stalled out.
KIRO 7 TV’s Deedee Sun contributed to this report