Hundreds of nurses and caregivers of Swedish Medical Center walked as a group into the hospital’s First Hill campus at 7:30 a.m. Friday, marking the end of a three-day strike that included 7,800 staffers.
Some workers had planned to return to their jobs at 7:30 but were turned away and told they’d been “temporarily replaced,” meaning a temporary worker had their shift for the day. Many had already received text messages and phone calls saying they weren’t needed Friday, but said they still wanted to try to come for their regularly scheduled shifts.
Swedish officials later Friday said nearly 2,000 union-represented caregivers had returned to their jobs and the hospital system will continue to bring back more “as work becomes available.”
No new contract talks are scheduled. Hospital spokeswoman Tiffany Moss said federal mediators are being brought in to schedule the next meeting.
Diane Sosne, president of the union that represents the workers — Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare 1199NW — said members are coming off the strike relieved that they “sounded the alarm on what’s happening to patient care.”
Outside the hospital Friday morning, workers held a rally and then moved together toward the hospital’s main doors, led by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Sister Helen Brennan of the Sisters of Providence. Smaller groups then tried to get into the hospital through other entrances. Outside a staff entry point, workers were being stopped by security and then let in five at a time to check in with hospital employees. If their name wasn’t on the list, they were turned back.
The strike, which began at 7 a.m. Tuesday, included workers from the hospital’s seven campuses, including First Hill, Cherry Hill, Ballard, Issaquah, Edmonds, Redmond and Mill Creek.
In advance of the strike, Swedish temporarily closed emergency departments on its Ballard and Redmond campuses, as well as its Ballard labor and delivery unit. Some services at the Issaquah campus, including the Level II nursery and adult ICU, were moved to other facilities.
Swedish reopened the emergency departments at 8 a.m. Friday and the labor and delivery unit at 9 a.m. Friday. The hospital postponed all elective surgeries, patient classes and other non-urgent procedures until after the strike ended. Swedish spokespeople say the hospital is still working to set new dates for some procedures.
In preparation for the walkout, Swedish hired a “few thousand” replacement nurses and caregivers from three different health-care agencies to fly in from all over the country and staff its hospitals from Tuesday to Sunday morning.
Although the strike was planned to last three days, the temporary workers will stay five days because the agencies require a five-day minimum contract, hospital spokespeople said Thursday. On Friday, workers who had been turned away were handed a letter from Swedish, dated Jan. 23, stating that striking employees could be replaced through Sunday.
Swedish declined to give any more information about which agencies were used. They said all procedures under the replacement caregivers went “remarkably well.”
Betsy Scott, a registered nurse at the Swedish Cancer Institute, had planned to return to work Friday morning but received a phone call Thursday from a manager who told her she wasn’t needed. She still showed up at the hospital Friday, “ready to go to work.”
“It’s heartbreaking, knowing patients won’t get the same care from temp workers,” she said, as union members around her chanted, “Hey Swedish, look what we’ve done, we stood up for everyone.”
A National Labor Relations Board representative said the agency couldn’t comment on the labor dispute at Swedish because it’s an “ongoing matter that could potentially come before the board at some point.”
The union planned the walkout after almost 10 months of bargaining with hospital management.
The most recent contract the hospital offered included an 11.25% raise over four years — 3% retroactive to 2019; 3% in 2020; 2.75% in 2021; and 2.5% in 2022. SEIU countered with its own proposal, a 23.25% increase in wages over four years.
Some of the caregivers’ other primary concerns, which they say weren’t adequately addressed in the hospital’s contract, include staffing shortages, faulty equipment and a lack of security for patients and workers.
The last contract expired at the end of July, and caregivers had been working without one for almost six months.