Issaquah City Councilmember Barbara de Michele joined the Swedish nurse strike. Madison Miller/staff photo

Issaquah City Councilmember Barbara de Michele joined the Swedish nurse strike. Madison Miller/staff photo

Swedish nurses, caregivers return to work

Swedish doctors held a press conference detailing steps following the strike.

Jan. 30 marked the final full day of the Swedish nurse strike, which included caregivers at the Swedish locations in Redmond and Issaquah.

Striking nurses and staff went back to work at 7:30 a.m. on Jan. 31. The strike included the closure of the emergency departments at Redmond and Ballard Swedish locations, which re-opened at 8 a.m. the day the strike ended.

Swedish doctors held a press conference the afternoon if Jan. 31 to share how quality care remained uninterrupted during the strike.

“We are here this afternoon because we want to deliver a strong message to the community regarding the safety and excellence and the care that we provide here at Swedish,” Dr. Jack Brandabur said. “We have a legacy of doing so. Over 100 years continues to this day, including the last three days, during which we have been enduring a strike.”

As previously reported, the three-day strike began Jan. 28 and included nearly 8,000 nurses and caregivers (including nursing assistants, techs, lab workers, dietary workers, environmental service technicians, clerks, social workers and others) from seven Swedish locations in Western Washington.

According to earlier reports, members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199NW, the local union representing workers in the states of Washington and Montana, were striking because they have been concerned that Swedish has been prioritizing profits and executive pay over patient needs, In addition, strikers said facilities are faced with inadequate staffing and high turnover rates, which has caused severe problems.

Brandabur said Swedish has been greatly aided by community partners at area hospitals, who helped care for patients.

On the morning of Jan. 28, he said there was a safe handoff of care for all patients as the temporary contracted nurses came into the facilities to fill in for strikers.

“Everybody banded together for the prime focus of providing safe seamless care to the patients,” he said.

Dr. Elizabeth Wako, chief medical officer at Swedish First Hill campus, said operations went well during the strike.

“This strike period has gone remarkably well and it’s really been due to the support of those around me and the caregivers and the workers and workers that we have brought in,” she said.

Wako continued to explain the next steps following the strike period.

In order to minimize disruption, she said there would be a rolling transition to bring caregivers back.

“The strike ends [Jan. 31] at 7:30 a.m. and we will be slowly bringing in our caregivers to replace our replacement workers,” she said ahead of the strike ending.

According to Wako, Swedish contracted the replacement workers for five days as that was the minimum number of days allowed for a contract.

Many strikers noted the possibility of being locked out of work that Friday morning. Wako said no nurses will be locked out of work.

“We have already started notifying caregivers who will be returning [Friday] at 7:30 a.m. whether or not they will be coming in Friday versus Saturday versus Sunday. So their managers are reaching out to them as we speak,” Wako said.

On Friday morning (Jan. 31), approximately 1,600 SEIU-represented caregivers returned to work across all campuses.

According to SEIU, the rolling in of union-represented staff in unlawful.

“We walk back into work together at 7:30 a.m. We have given management an unconditional return to work, but Providence may try to temporarily lock us out of work by pointing to the contract length it negotiated with the replacement or scab agencies,” SEIU1199NW said in a release. “If there is a temporary lockout, we will stay strong together and know that we have a legal right to return to our jobs.”

According to Swedish, they are not engaged in an unlawful lockout.

“Swedish contracted with our vendors for a five-day replacement period, which was communicated to SEIU before the union delivered its strike notice on Jan. 17. We also sent a postcard to every represented caregiver’s home stating this arrangement, sent out internal messaging in our weekly newsletter and posted the information on our intranet, all prior to the strike period,” Swedish said in a statement.

By Sunday, all SEIU-represented caregivers returned to work.

Editor’s note: Swedish was incorrectly named in an earlier version of this article. The story has been updated to reflect the health services provider’s correct name.

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