Swedish management and workers return to the bargaining table, but disagreements remain

Swedish health care workers braved the rain to march on the picket lines in front of Swedish Edmonds Jan. 28. (File photo by Larry Vogel)

For the first time since the three-day walkout Jan. 28-30, representatives of Swedish Hospital and the union representing its approximately 7,800 affected health care workers (SEIU Healthcare 1199NW) returned to the bargaining table on Monday.

It’s been almost two weeks since the health care workers walked off the job at several Puget Sound-area Swedish Hospital facilities –including Swedish Edmonds — after the two sides failed to reach a contract agreement following months of extended negotiations. The workers have been without a contract since July.

Monday’s talks were held under the auspices of federal mediators, who have been engaged to help further progress in contract negotiations. According to a late-Tuesday statement from Swedish, “the mediators recommended that the two sides exchange new counterproposals through the mediators rather than meet face-to-face, since emotions are still high following the strike. We [Swedish] agreed to their recommendation.”

The latest proposals were put forth, and while the two sides have moved closer on some details, major areas of disagreement remain.

The union said Tuesday that its latest offer delivers “good-faith proposals that moved closer to the hospital’s position on wages while remaining firm in their positions on patient safety, recruitment and retention, safety and security, safe staffing, and infection control.”

According to Swedish, its new proposal “retains nearly all major elements of our Jan. 15 package,” but adds a provision to bring in a third party to facilitate what it calls a “series of focused conversations” on staffing, which it acknowledges has been “a primary concern for our caregivers.”

According to the union’s statement, this does not go far enough to ensure the necessary staffing to maintain needed levels of patient care, safety and infection control. “Swedish-Providence management has not moved on its proposals and continues to be unresponsive to caregivers’ proposals for safe staffing,” the statement says. “The union goes on to say that it is concerned that management’s latest proposals “could make recruitment and retention worse,” adding that “we didn’t go on strike because we wanted to, we went on strike because we needed to. We need to keep patients safe.”

Regarding wages, Swedish says it is “disappointed” that the latest union proposal asks for a wage increase of 22.75% over four years, calling it “unreasonable and unworkable.” The union had previously proposed a 23.25% increase, which it maintained is critical to attract and retain quality staff given the cost of living the Puget Sound area. Swedish noted that it “continues to offer wage increases totaling 11.25% over four years,” maintaining that this would keep “Swedish at the top of the market while also meeting our responsibility to be good stewards of our resources.”

The Swedish statement concluded by saying that the hospital remains “committed to bargaining in good faith with SEIU,” citing “sincere efforts to address staffing concerns and provide our caregivers with wages and benefits that ensure Swedish remains a leader among health care employers in this market.”

— By Larry Vogel

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