On Wednesday night, Nov. 20, 2019, 200 or so Highline Medical Center nurses and caregivers – and SEIU Healthcare 1199NW members – picketed and rallied in front of the facility to protest what they consider to be “severe understaffing, patient care concerns and proposed cuts to their health benefits.”
SEIU members say that executives at CHI Franciscan – the large corporate owner of Highline – are “prioritizing profits over the needs of patients.”
“Problems have grown so grave at Highline that 327 nurses and caregivers have left the hospital since 2016.”
An SEIU spokesperson sent us responses to the following questions:
Is SEIU planning on striking? If so, when will a vote be taken, and when might the strike begin?
Nurses and caregivers never want to strike and take the decision very seriously, because it’s a last resort tool to make executives improve patient care and jobs. Before any strike, there would be a democratic vote and the hospital would be given a 10 day notice in order to prepare. At this time, there is not a strike vote planned, and workers hope to reach solutions, such as better staffing levels, without a strike.
Where do negotiations stand with CHI Franciscan?
Negotiations have been ongoing since June, but CHI Franciscan executives have rejected almost all proposals, including improved staffing levels, and have also proposed deep cuts to workers’ healthcare and retirement benefits.
What are some of the top requests SEIU is asking CHI for?
Improved staffing levels, maintaining the current, affordable healthcare plan, expanding training and continuing education opportunities, preserving retirement benefits, implementing processes to prevent racial discrimination on the job, and raising wages to the standard of other area hospitals in order to recruit and retain qualified staff.
What has CHI’s response been so far?
Negotiations have been going on since June, and CHI Franciscan has rejected almost all proposals, including staffing improvements, and also proposed deep cuts to healthcare and retirement benefits. They have also broken federal law and violated caregivers’ rights by committing unfair labor practices.
The next bargaining date is Dec. 12, 2019. If executives don’t agree to urgently needed improvements in patient care, staffing and jobs at that negotiation, nurses and caregivers will continue to increase their campaign until they raise standards for their community.
CHI Franciscan responds:
“We value our nurses and service workers and are committed to providing a quality work environment with competitive wages and benefits that attract and retain the very best,” said Cary Evans, Vice President for Communications and Government Affairs, CHI Franciscan. “We respect the collective bargaining process and as we move forward with ongoing negotiations, patients at Highline Medical Center can expect to receive uninterrupted, quality care.”
CHI also provided a link to following story: CHI Franciscan Earns Highest Patient Safety Marks in Washington State
Here’s an edited (for time) video showing the protestors and speakers, which included union representatives, Burien Councilmember Pedro Olguin, newly-elected Councilmember Kevin Schilling, King County Councilmembers Joe McDermott and Dave Upthegrove, newly-elected Normandy Park Councilmember Earnest Thompson, President of the Highline Education Association Sandy Hunt, SEIU 1199NW president Diane Sosne and others:
NOTE: In the video above you may have noticed that the Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce (we’re members) was mentioned twice, regarding how the Highline Medical Center was named “Best Place to Work” at its recent 2019 Awards Dinner.
At least two union members claimed that the chamber award was given because the COO of Highline Medical Center sits on its board.
The chamber released the following statement in response to this:
“”The Chamber board, at our September 17th board meeting, reviewed all of the nominations submitted by community members and chose the winners based on those submissions. Although the COO of Highline Medical Center sits on our board, the Chamber wants to assure the public that there were no submissions sent for board consideration from management at the hospital. Additionally, when the board deliberated and voted on the awards, the COO recused himself from the discussion and vote as is standard best practice and in accordance with our internal policies and procedures. It was at that meeting, and based on public submissions, that Highline Medical Center was chosen to receive an award.”
Here’s the chamber’s full statement:
“The Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce is a nonprofit service organization that is proud to serve our community in Southwest King County and has done so diligently for over 30 years. As a Chamber we focus on service – service for our business community and the people that live and work here. We provide resources, workshops and opportunities for small businesses and workers to learn, grow and succeed as well as advocacy to ensure that our community remains a place where opportunity thrives.
“We are also passionate about recognition and acknowledging the individuals and businesses that make our community the amazing place it is. That is why we host an annual Awards Dinner. This year we invited the public to nominate the member businesses, organizations, and individuals who have gone above and beyond in their field.
“This year’s categories were:
- Educator of the Year – Celebrates an educator that demonstrates exemplary teaching methods and innovation of style, and has a significant impact on students, parents, and peers.
- Non-Profit of the Year – Awarded to a not-for-profit organization that demonstrates best practices in nonprofit management as well as providing outstanding programs, services, or events that make a profound difference in the community and its residents.
- Business Leader of the Year – Recognizes a business or individual that has achieved excellence through innovative business practices, products, and/or services and community involvement.
- Community Event of the Year – Presented to a group or organization that has staged an outstanding community event which had significant impact in serving and reaching the community. Event must have taken place between the dates of September 1, 2018 and August 31, 2019.
- Public Servant of the Year – Recognizes an elected official or city employee who frequently exceeds expectations and performs at the highest standards and measures, making them an example to others in similar roles.
- New Business of the Year – Recognizes a business that has demonstrated incredible growth in operations, market performance or community engagement, or has performed exemplary work in filling a gap in their industry. Business must have opened in the Seattle Southside region after January 1, 2018.
- Best Place to Work – Celebrates an organization that helps their employees advance their careers, knowledge, and performance in an environment that makes work fun and engaging.
“Nominations were received online through an open public survey from Friday, August 2 through Sunday, September 8, 2019.
“Any business, individual, or non-profit that is a Classic or Premier member in good standing with the Chamber was eligible for nomination.
“The Chamber board, at our September 17th board meeting, reviewed all of the nominations submitted by community members and chose the winners based on those submissions. Although the COO of Highline Medical Center sits on our board, the Chamber wants to assure the public that there were no submissions sent for board consideration from management at the hospital. Additionally, when the board deliberated and voted on the awards, the COO recused himself from the discussion and vote as is standard best practice and in accordance with our internal policies and procedures. It was at that meeting, and based on public submissions, that Highline Medical Center was chosen to receive an award.
“We strive to expand the collaborative culture in our area because we know the benefits of working alongside one another. We were founded on the belief that we are better and stronger when we work together. We hope the community understands that the process for acknowledging those who were recognized at this year’s celebration came directly from the community, and not from the board or management, and that the only intention in providing a place for recognition is to encourage greater community pride and to inspire others to continue to do their best work. We have a lot to be proud of here in the Southside, and certainly a lot of work to do. We will do far more and accomplish greater things when we work together. When we do not divide our community but unite it. When we celebrate our strengths and when we lead with service over self.
“As reflected in the nomination process, there are many employees that value their work experience at Highline Medical Center. We hope that bargaining can continue in good faith so that a best outcome can be achieved for all concerned. The greatest economic asset any community has is the people that live and work there. The Chamber is committed to serving our workers and our businesses so that we can continue to grow and expand opportunity here at home.”
— SEIUHealthcare1199NW (@SEIU1199NW) November 21, 2019
Yesterday hundreds of Highline Medical Center nurses and caregivers held our wildly successful Rally & Informational Picket for Quality Healthcare! #ProtectHighlinePatients #HighlineMedicalCenter@CHIFranciscan @commonspirit #CHIFranciscan #CHIHealth #CommonSpiritHealth pic.twitter.com/LUZ3vsfP8e
— SEIUHealthcare1199NW (@SEIU1199NW) November 21, 2019
Here’s more info from the SEIU Healthcare 1199NW union:
“I’ve been a nurse at Highline for 35 years – half my life – and I’ve watched it change from an independent community hospital to part of a major corporation which is only focused on acquisition and promotion,” said Marghee Baldridge, an emergency department registered nurse who holds a master’s degree in nursing. “I went into nursing because I have a deep commitment to helping people. But the staffing levels are unsafe at Highline, and it’s very hard to give patients the care they deserve. In the emergency department I’m often responsible for severely ill patients who require multiple time sensitive and complex interventions and there aren’t enough supportive services. It’s gotten so bad, we now have a revolving door because staff people are overwhelmed and feel they cannot provide safe care. When we ask for better staffing levels, executives say we have to meet our ‘productivity grids’ and it seems like they’re more concerned about profits than the safety and well-being of our patients. Meanwhile, CHI-Franciscan has ads running on TV during sports events and award shows – I wonder how much all that advertising costs?”
Approximately 550 registered nurses, certified nursing assistants, lab assistants, sterile processing techs, unit secretaries, environmental services workers, dietary aides and others have been trying to negotiate a fair union contract with urgent solutions since June. Rather than listening to their concerns, executives have refused to bargain in good faith and have instead committed unfair labor practices by eliminating nearly all the doctors in the workers’ health plan to try to force them into a worse corporate plan. Nurses and caregivers say it is a sad irony that executives are trying to cut healthcare for healthcare workers, which would be especially hard on lower-wage employees with children under their insurance.
Highline workers’ contract proposals aim to protect patients and caregivers by: increasing staffing levels; maintaining workers’ current, affordable healthcare plan; expanding training and continuing education opportunities; preserving retirement benefits; implementing joint labor-management processes to guard against racial injustice and discrimination in the workplace; and raising wages to meet the standard for other area hospitals in order to recruit and retain qualified staff.
“The staffing’s so bad at Highline, we feel like the wheels are coming off,” said Jenny Carter, a lead sterile processing tech who has worked at the hospital for 28 years. “In my area of sterile processing, we usually only have one person on duty per shift, which creates a bottleneck. We have to wash all the surgical instruments, then assemble them for surgeries, and there’s just not enough staff to get all the work done. Making matters worse, management’s proposed healthcare cuts are really going to hurt, especially co-workers who have children under their insurance. All these problems have created a mass exodus, with hundreds of workers leaving in recent years.”
In addition to the rally and informational picket, workers are raising awareness amongst elected officials and the public through other means, including: a mobile billboard which will be driving through major intersections in the Burien area and circling CHI Franciscan corporate headquarters in Tacoma; extensive social media posts using the hashtag #ProtectHighlinePatients; a website at ProtectHighlinePatients.org which will allow community members to directly contact executives; leafleting to patients and the public; and distributing yard and window signs to neighbors.
CHI Franciscan is very financially healthy with $1.4 billion in revenue in 2018, and certainly has more than enough resources to improve staffing levels, protect patient safety and raise job standards. Recently, Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) merged with Dignity Health to form CommonSpirit Health, the largest non-profit health system in the country by revenue, with over 700 facilities throughout 21 states. Highline workers want to hold corporate executives in distant boardrooms accountable and ensure they are investing in safe, quality healthcare and good jobs for the local community.