More than 1,100 union nurses and local health care workers plan to hold an informational picket outside Deaconess Medical Center and Valley Hospital on Tuesday to publicly voice concerns about staffing levels and other working conditions.
SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, a regional affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, announced the picket Monday, citing frustrations over how recent staffing cuts impact patient care.
“Unsafe staffing is really our main, main concern,” says Teri Nicholson, a Valley Hospital registered nurse with the union bargaining team.
Union representatives expect several hundred workers to take part in the picket line outside Deaconess from 11 am to 1 pm and from 4 pm to 6 pm. A similar picket will run from 11 am to 1 pm at Valley Hospital.
Nicholson notes workers can only picket on their breaks or days off, so the demonstration will not affect any services provided at either hospital.
Employees have been in talks with hospital managers for about nine months. In addition to staffing levels, Nicholson says workers have also challenged contract changes to how sick days get counted and how often they can be sent home from overstaffed shifts.
“Informational pickets are pretty common,” Nicholson explains. “When we want to bring attention to our cause we do that.”
Updated: Sasha Weiler, a spokeswoman for both Deaconess and Valley hospitals, says the union gave the hospitals advance notice of the picket. She also noted the demonstration would not disrupt or change any hospital services. She declined to comment on staffing levels.
"Our priority is always the care and safety of patients," she says. "We will continue that tomorrow and always."
In a news release on the picket, union representatives quoted Valley Hospital Intensive Care Unit nurse Robin McIntyre on the risks of reducing hospital staffing.
“As an ICU nurse, it’s important that I have the time to spend with my critically ill patients,” McIntyre says. “Valley cut the staff who answer the phones and process orders and now I have to take time away from my patients to cover those duties.”
McIntyre was featured in an Inlander story earlier this month on the history and evolution of the local labor movement.