Seattle Children’s Hospital nurses picket for better working conditions as negotiations stall

Aug 9, 2022, 10:33 AM | Updated: 12:53 pm

nurse picket...

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) started picketing outside Seattle Children’s Hospital this morning, Aug. 9, at 6 a.m. to try and pressure the hospital in contract negotiations for the nurses.

The WSNA union, which represents more than 1,700 nurses in the state, says that in the past nine contract negotiations over four months, they have been bargaining with the hospital and still haven’t been able to reach an agreement.

“We’ve gone through nine contract negotiation dates with a lot of push back from management,” one nurse at the strike said. “They’re long grueling days with a lot of back and forth and negotiating of our current contract. With a lot of overtime, there are a lot of us that are really tired and a lot of us that aren’t getting paid what we deserve.”

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The picket is not a strike though, according to both the nurses and the hospital, as this is just a way to gain the public’s attention for awareness of the issue. The picket is set to last through 9 a.m. and restart again at noon and end at 3 p.m.

“Seattle Children’s and the Washington State Nursing Association are in the process of negotiating a new version of their contract,” a spokesperson from Seattle Children’s said in a statement. “The WSNA has decided to hold an informational picket in order to communicate its positions to the public. The informational picket is not a strike and participants are off-shift or not working at that time so patient care is not interrupted. While we cannot share the details of ongoing negotiations, we are diligently working to make progress and are committed to working collaboratively with the WSNA in order to reach a fair agreement as soon as possible. As negotiations continue, we all agree that putting patients first is our highest priority.”

The biggest issue that the nurses are rallying behind is the staffing shortage at the hospital, leading the nurses that are already there to have to work longer hours and handle more patients. The combination of burnout from the pandemic, understaffing, and more lucrative options have led to vacancy rates of up to 19% at Seattle Children’s Hospital, a figure that equates to approximately 400 registered nurses and a 14% increase over vacancy rates from last year.

The second key point of contention is pay, with nurses saying that they are getting an effective pay cut with only a 3% annual pay raise, despite inflation in the Seattle area reaching a record 8.5% high this year. That includes a lack of a retention bonus, which they say other hospitals provide for their nurses.

The union says the hospital needs 400 more nurses to properly care for their patients.

WSNA argues that because of the $80 million that Seattle Children’s received from the CARES act during the pandemic, they should be using some of that money they have been making to recruit new nurses and pay the ones they have a fair wage. In a study done by WSNA, Seattle Children’s increased its net assets from $3.6 billion to $4.3 billion from 2019 to 2021, which they say should go towards helping the nurses and investing in patient care.

“It is unfortunate then, that the Hospital did not invest more directly in patient care and the Seattle community,” the report said. “One of the primary expenses for hospitals are the wages and benefits of nurses and other hospital staff. Instead of making a meaningful investment in the people who provide the care to children, SCH prioritized profits and asset expansion.”

A spokesperson from Seattle Children’s released a statement about the picket.

“Seattle Children’s deeply values and supports our team members and is committed to being a leader in compensation in the Seattle/Tacoma market. Seattle Children’s nurses are vital members of our team and integral to providing the highest level of care to the patients and families we serve,” the statement said. “Like many healthcare organizations across the country, Seattle Children’s is experiencing a staffing shortage, which strains our system as a whole. While we would prefer to fill vacancies with Seattle Children’s staff, we’ve had to bring on additional support staff to ensure our patients continue to receive the highest level of care.”

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Seattle Children’s Hospital nurses picket for better working conditions as negotiations stall