Strike ends, but PeaceHealth workers can’t go back to work yet

PeaceHealth employees who tried to return to work at the end of their 25-hour strike the morning of Thursday, May 14, were barred from entering the hospital.

The striking workers — wearing yellow stickers on their shirts that read “Don’t lock out care” — walked from the corner of Squalicum Parkway and Ellis Streets at about 6:45 a.m. Thursday, onto the hospital’s property and were met at the main front entrance by PeaceHealth officials, including Cindy Klein, the vice president of people and culture, and security.

The employees are members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, which has been wrangling with PeaceHealth over a three-year contract. The union represents support and tech staff totaling up to 900 workers.

Hundreds of workers at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center and its labs walked out at 6 a.m. for 25 hours Wednesday, meaning until 6:59 a.m. Thursday, after a breakdown in negotiations over wages, health benefits and staffing levels.

Striking employees included nursing assistants, lab technicians, dietary staff, unit secretaries, and hospital housekeeping, according to the union.

Standing at the hospital entrance, workers shouted: “People deserve a decent contract. What would the Sisters say? What would the Pope say?”

PeaceHealth is a Catholic health care provider with medical centers, hospitals, medical group clinics and laboratories in Washington, Alaska and Oregon.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace founded PeaceHealth.

The standoff between the two sides Thursday morning lasted a few minutes. Then workers chanted “One day longer, one day stronger” and “We’ll be back” before marching back to Squalicum Parkway.

In response, PeaceHealth spokeswoman Beverly Mayhew said Thursday that officials were “very disappointed in the behavior of the group.”

Striking workers said they are frustrated by stagnating wages, rising health-care costs and understaffing. They said they want wage increases that keep up with the cost of living, and health benefits, especially for families, that allow them to afford care at the hospital where they work.

PeaceHealth prepared for the strike by hiring temporary workers through an agency that they said required a minimum three-day contract, telling striking employees that they couldn’t return until the contract’s end at 7 a.m. Saturday.

“This did not come as a surprise to SEIU or to PeaceHealth caregivers in the bargaining unit,” Mayhew said, adding that about 200 workers who are part of the SEIU bargaining unit did not go out on strike Wednesday.

All of the striking workers will show up for their shifts Thursday, said Anita Claymore, a member of the bargaining team who has been a housekeeper at PeaceHealth for four years.

“We’re going to continue to show up for work and hope they’ll see reason and allow us to go back to where we belong,” she said. “It’s the hospital’s choice, not ours.”

Meanwhile, Mayhew said PeaceHealth and the union are trying to schedule the next date to resume contract negotiations.

PeaceHealth doctors and nurses didn’t go on strike, which occurred primarily among SEIU Healthcare 1199NW members at the hospital.