More than 1,300 nurses from Snohomish Co.'s largest hospital set to strike for 5 days

More than 1,300 nurses at the largest hospital in Snohomish County are set to strike, beginning Tuesday morning.

Leaders of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union and Providence Regional Medical Center have not reached a contract agreement.

UFCW leaders recently announced the Unfair Labor Practice Strike, saying "chronic understaffing continues to threaten the safety and well-being of patients and nurses."

"All it takes, all it takes is a fair contract," said a UFCW member during a news conference.

"We would much rather have our nurses here. We're disappointed that they made the decision to strike, but it's their right. And we respect that," said Kristy Carrington, chief executive of Providence Swedish North Puget Sound.

Nurses at the hospital voted on Oct. 19 to authorize a strike, which carried with a 97% approval. The strike is set to last five days, ending Sunday morning. 

Union leaders said the strike would likely affect care for many patients. However, Carrington said the hospital is ready to execute its plan with minimal disruptions to care. She explained during the strike, replacement nurses from an agency will provide health care, while volunteers support daily operations.

"We have to make sure we're continuing to be here for the community. We don't want to compromise access to care. We don't want to create disruptions to care. And at this point, we're feeling pretty confident that we'll be able to maintain that access and limit disruptions to care for our patients and for our community," said Carrington.

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Union leaders said before contract negotiations started, nurses had been reporting staffing shortages to hospital management for years. 

"Hundreds of nurses have left in a mass exodus in recent years; those remaining are demanding accountability from the hospital’s management to create a safer environment for nurses and patients," wrote the UFCW in a statement.

Carrington said she, too, realizes a shortage of workers has been affecting the health care industry globally.

"We have an aging population who has rising healthcare needs, and those needs are just outpacing our ability to be able to train nurses and get them into practice at the bedside," said Carrington.

Though both parties failed to reach an agreement, Carrington said the hospital is working on a proposal hoping to seal a deal. Along with plans to retain and recruit nurses, she said compensation topped the list.

"Without a doubt, there's room for us to do more there," said Carrington. "Our average nurse makes $121,000 a year. And in our proposal that we most recently had, we were offering a 21.5% wage increase over the life of the contract. About 13% of that, the average nurse in our hospital, would have seen that upon ratification. That's pretty significant."

Providence Regional Medical Center will host a news conference, Tuesday morning, to address the strike.