On strike: Workers at two hospitals in Pierce County walk out

TACOMA -- More than 1,100 workers at two hospitals in Pierce County spent much of Monday night ramping up for a strike both sides say can no longer be avoided.

Now, they will walk out of the job at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday. And leave their work behind for at least 24 hours.

"We're trying to get better wages.  We're trying to get better health care and we're trying to get better pensions,”  said Desiree Castillo, a member of Service Employees International Union Local 1199.

"We don't foresee any sort of eleventh-hour agreement at this point, no,” CHI Franciscan Health spokesman Scott Thompson said. However, union workers said while no negotiations are going on right now and the strike will happen, they hope to resume talks later Tuesday.

SEIU Local 1199 represents a broad range of health care workers at Tacoma’s St. Joseph Medical Center and St. Clare’s in Lakewood -- nursing assistants, unit secretaries, dietary aides, housekeepers, pharmacy techs and others. The strike doesn't include doctors and nurses.

Along with wages and pension, union members want a greater focus and commitment to charity care for the poor that workers say includes a lot of their rank and file.

"We have employees at the hospital that are in debt and have creditors for being cared for by CHI and so that's a big issue,” union member Jennifer Storm said.

"We value all of our employees.  We know they are a vital part of who we are as a hospital and health care system and we feel like we've presented them with market-driven proposals for wages and benefits and we look forward to coming to an agreement with them,” Thompson said.

Thompson added that the company expected the strike, is ready for the strike and patients shouldn't notice anything out of the ordinary.

"We're going to deploy other staff from our other facilities to both hospitals to fill those positions and other positions. Where we have needs, we will contract with other agencies to fill up those gaps,” Thompson said.

Nerves are frayed, tension is high but workers believe they are doing the right thing and they say they are determined to see it through.

"I'm ready to go on strike and I'm ready to sacrifice that one day because it's for all of us.  It's for the community. It's for me.  It's for my daughter. It's for my grandkids,” Castillo said.

Union members understand the timing is not good; after all, they say, Thanksgiving is next week and the holiday shopping season is already ramping up.

Most have families and children, but say they are prepared to sacrifice for a better tomorrow.

The strike is set to begin at 7 a.m. Tuesday. No one knows how long it might last.