Providence Nurses Hoping for Progress in Next Round of Negotiations, Strike Not Off Table

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The ongoing standoff between unionized nurses and Providence Health and Services’ management over paid time off, worker retention and other issues could be making some headway as the next series of negotiations are slated to kick off this week in Seattle. 

To date, “very little movement” has been achieved between both parties, according to Diane Stedham-Jewell, a 41-year registered nurse at Providence Centralia and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW 21) shop steward. 

In fact, she stated that if progress isn’t made later this week, Providence would be given 10-day strike notice. 

“We’ve made progress on some aspects of the contract and come to some tentative agreement. But on the big issues surrounding safe staffing, staff retention and not losing our earned benefits, we haven’t made any progress, or we’ve made very little progress,” said Stedham-Jewell. 

Providence and its nursing staff are negotiating a new contract to replace a previous contract, which expired on June 25. 

One of the major sticking points precluding an agreement, said Stedham-Jewell, is paid time off given that they reportedly stand to lose 20 to 40 hours a year of paid time — the equivalent of four vacation holidays — under a newly proposed hospital policy. That time, she said, could be used for sick days. 

Providence is currently recommending that all those hours go into one bank starting in 2021. Nurses argue they could lose anywhere from 400 to 700 sick hours as a result of the new system. 

In a recent guest column published in The Chronicle, Kevin Caserta, the site administrator of Providence Centralia Hospital and Providence Southwest WA Chief Medical Officer, claimed that the Providence network isn’t taking away sick leave. Instead, his management team is trying to implement a new employer-paid short-term disability benefit that would “provide a stronger financial safety net for employees who need to take unexpected leave due to illness or an injury.” 

He also stated that employees could use their “banked time off” to supplement their leaves. 

However, Stedham-Jewell doesn’t view the program as one that would be utilized by many workers and added that the “loss that people would be taking on would be greater.” 

“We are committed to bargaining in good faith so we can come to an agreement. Our bargaining teams look forward to getting back to the negotiation tables to continue working toward those shared interests,” said Communications Manager Chris Thomas of Providence Health and Services’ for Southwest Washington.

Thomas said another negotiation meeting will take place on Jan. 7 at Providence’s Centralia facility, located at 914 S. Scheuber Road. 

“This is so hard for me. I worked for Providence for over 40 years and I felt a lot of loyalty for Providence. It’s just hard and it’s sad that it’s come down to this. It’s just really sad and hurtful,” said Stedham-Jewell.

The contract under negotiation will reportedly affect more than 13,000 Providence workers in Washington state. The group is being represented by three labor unions, including UFCW 21, WSNA and SEIU 1199NW. 

“We don’t take the decision to authorize a strike lightly. We are on the job, every day, taking care of patients who are ill, injured and in need of care. The last thing we would want to do is go on strike,” concluded Stedham-Jewell.