More than 7,000 Providence Swedish health care workers this week ratified a new contract that includes “historic” wage increases, bonuses and incentives and market adjustments for both nurses and service workers.
The new contract, which was tentatively agreed to earlier this month, reflects “the largest economic package the workers have ever won at Providence Swedish” — including raises of 21.5% or $6.50 an hour (whichever is higher) over two years — according to a statement from staffers’ labor union, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW.
The hospital and its staffers reached an agreement nearly a year ahead of schedule, as the current contract doesn’t expire until July 2023.
“With staffing levels being as dangerous as they are, both our union and Providence Swedish knew that equitable wage increases and incentives couldn’t wait until the next contract,” SEIU president Jane Hopkins said in the statement. “Everyone came to the table ready to collaborate in good faith, to apply racial justice principles and to elevate our union leadership’s vision of fostering anti-racist workplaces.”
She continued, “We stayed true to our values, and we secured a historic economic package that will both keep health care workers at Providence Swedish and recruit new workers.”
In addition to across-the-board wage increases, the contract includes market adjustments for nurses, nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, emergency department technicians and other health care staffers. It also includes a more accurate review process of crediting past health care experience; incentive pay for lead roles and night and extra shifts; and bonuses to encourage workers to stay.
In total, the agreement offers an additional $125 million to staffers, Swedish said in a statement.
“I am proud that we are significantly improving wages to support our caregivers and aid our retention and recruitment in a highly competitive market,” Swedish CEO Dr. R. Guy Hudson said in a statement. “I am especially pleased that we were able to provide a package that will benefit caregivers, reward longer-term team members for their years of service and boost our efforts to recruit and retain nurses.”
This week’s agreement reflects a much smoother and quicker bargaining process than what workers and hospital management endured during the last contract negotiation session more than two years ago. In 2020, thousands of hospital staffers went on strike for three days before they and the hospital finally came to an agreement a year after negotiations began.
That contract, still in effect, resulted in a 12.5% raise over three years.
This time around, both parties completed bargaining in just over a month.
“We knew we couldn’t repeat what happened two years ago,” said Carol Lightle, a charge nurse at Swedish Issaquah and a member of the bargaining team. “I don’t think that’s good for anyone. The last resort for workers is for us to walk away from our patients.”
The raises start to kick in on Oct. 14, followed by a 9.5% or $3 increase in April 2023; a 4% or $1.25 increase in October 2023; and a 4% or $1 increase in October 2024.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Lightle said. “I’m so excited. People are so happy and thankful.”
Lightle said she was proud of the union’s bargaining team, and also credited Swedish’s management for “being committed to viewing the process from a racial justice lens and partnering on the journey.”
She noted she’s particularly proud of the contract’s moves to balance pay for service workers and non-nursing staffers, who are generally paid less than the nursing staff.
“It’s not OK we’re not being recognized in the same way,” she said. “Service workers are usually people of color or speak English as a second language. We wanted to uplift them because we’ve realized they’ve fallen behind [in pay].”
Swedish’s contract agreements come a few weeks after Seattle Children’s nurses, represented by the Washington State Nurses Association, won significant raises after 12 bargaining sessions with hospital management. More than 5,000 UW Medicine staffers, also represented by SEIU, are also in the midst of negotiations.
“I hope health care workers can use this process [at Swedish] as a north star,” Lightle said, referring to both other hospitals’ bargaining sessions and Swedish’s future negotiations.