Monday, December 2, 2013

Deaconess, Valley nurses say Wednesday strike imminent

Posted By on Mon, Dec 2, 2013 at 3:21 PM

Approximately 1,000 union nurses and hospital support workers expect to hold a one-day strike outside Valley Hospital and Deaconess Medical Center on Wednesday after a year of stalled negotiations over staffing levels and other working conditions.

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, which represents nurses and staff at both hospitals, has voiced serious concerns about how the hospitals schedule and assign workers, arguing employees are routinely left dangerously shorthanded. Workers have also cited issues with how sick days get counted and how often they can be sent home from shifts.

After nearly a year of negotiations, the union set a strike deadline for 5:59 am Wednesday. SEIU spokeswoman Julie Popper says the management bargaining team today "canceled" negotiations for Tuesday, making an agreement by the Wednesday deadline unlikely.

"We're going on strike," she says. "That's it."

Popper says the union represents approximately 500 nurses, nurse assistants, sterile processors, technicians and housekeeping workers at Valley Hospital with another 450 employees at Deaconess. Workers expect to "walk out" at 6 am Wednesday, picketing outside for 24 hours before returning to work Thursday morning.

Sasha Weiler, communications director for Deaconess and Valley, says both hospitals will be prepared for the strike and will make accommodations to ensure all services continue as normal.

"We're planning to take care of our patients that day," she says.

A statement from Weiler says hospital physicians will continue working. The hospitals have also scheduled temporary workers with proper credentials and licenses to stand in for union workers.

"The hospitals expect a peaceful demonstration," the statement adds, "but have taken the precaution of engaging additional security to assist during the strike and picketing."

Union leaders plan to hold a strategy session this afternoon to make picket signs and practice chants. They will then prepare for the walk out at 6 am Wednesday. Popper says the union will maintain a 24-hour presence outside the hospitals during the strike.

A community support rally is scheduled for 4 pm Wednesday outside Valley Hospital. Another rally is set for 5:30 am Thursday before workers return to work.

Teri Nicholson, a registered nurse at Valley, says union members had been hopeful they could avoid a strike. As a member of the bargaining team, she says many were disappointed today. They hope the demonstration will bring managers back to the table in "good faith."

"They just keep dragging their feet," she says.

Nicholson says the union previously threatened a strike during its last contract negotiation in 2010, but it was avoided by a last-minute contract agreement finalized just hours before the strike deadline.

"We've been in this position before," she says. "[But] they've never let it go this far."

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Jacob Jones

Staff writer Jacob Jones covers criminal justice, natural resources, military issues and organized labor for the Inlander.