It’s been eight months marked by picket lines, hundreds of hours of negotiations, and a three-day strike, but finally last week Swedish Hospital and more than 7,700 represented health care workers reached tentative agreement on a new contract. And on Monday, SEIU Healthcare 199NW members voted overwhelmingly to ratify.
Negotiations had dragged on since last July, with both sides failing to reach agreement on key points. The ice finally thawed last month when Gov. Jay Inslee stepped in, convening both sides with independent mediators Thomas Kochan, a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, and federal mediator Beth Schindler, Western Regional Director of Field Operations for Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services.
Staffing was a pivotal issue throughout the negotiations, and the new contracts address this with a partnership agreement centered on improving quality of health care, protecting staff and advancing the recruitment of future workers. Also included is a strong commitment from Swedish to work with its front-line caregivers when discussing staffing levels and joint work on policy issues.
The partnership agreement also contains a first in the nation “Best Jobs, Best Care” Joint Labor-Management Innovation Fund. The fund will develop work-site innovation leaders, improve recruitment of a multi-racial care team, improve quality of patient care and study new developments in technology. Swedish will commit $1 million over four years to this fund.
In a statement issued Monday, SEIU 1199NW praised this provision, calling it a “commitment to a more cohesive partnership with our union colleagues moving forward.”
The agreement also includes 13.5% wage increases over the life of the contracts, and new zero-premium health coverage for employees who earn less than $60,000 annually.
“I am grateful that we came together to finalize these agreements so we can support our patients, our community and each other during this unprecedented COVID-19 crisis,” said Swedish CEO, Dr. Guy Hudson. “We appreciate Gov. Inslee’s leadership in bringing our two sides together to find a solution we can both support.”
“I want to thank the leadership of 1199NW and Swedish for agreeing to reconvene and work hard to reach this agreement,” Inslee said. “Professor Kochan and Beth Schindler did an impressive job of keeping people talking and all parties focused on the most important goal: a unified health care system to help us fight against this global pandemic.
“I hope the agreements reached serve as a model for how labor and management in the health care industry can work together in these trying times,” the governor said.
— By Larry Vogel