Story, Photos & Video by Alia Sinclair
Healthcare workers, service workers, techs, and supportive community members came out in droves to support the picket of St. Anne Hospital in Burien on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022.
Members of the SEIU Healthcare 1199NW union rallied together to picket St. Anne Hospital to demand fair contracts that ensure livable wages that will retain the current staff and attract new workers to the hospital.
The picketing workers allege that St. Anne pays less than any other hospital in the surrounding area by as much as $6 an hour. Another source stated that many other hospitals are offering $20,000-$30,000 signing bonuses to healthcare workers resulting in the already strained staff of St. Anne becoming even thinner as workers leave in droves.
The situation, as one emergency room nurse stated, has become unsafe for both staff and patients.
“Per our contract, our nurse-to-patient ratio is supposed to be 4:1. We can handle that. No one’s complaining about working hard. With the current staffing issues, that ratio goes up 5:1, 6:1, on the night shift, sometimes even more than that. It’s not safe anymore.”
Kara Shafer, an RN currently working in the Cancer Center stated that the union is also pleading for break relief nurses. Currently, the nurses on the clock must cover the patients of nurses on break, further raising the contractual 4:1 nurse-to-patient ratio to 10:1.
“In the ICU, that can be really critical,” Shafer says. “If [a nurse] is in a room providing patient care and something is going on in the other room, they might not hear that alarm going off.”
The low pay and safety concerns are punctuated by a recent slashing of benefits and a prioritization of employing travel nurses who work at the hospital on 13-week contracts instead of offering higher wages to the staff who have worked for St. Anne through the pandemic and beyond.
SEIU Healthcare President Jane Hopkins says that the situation has become untenable.
“These workers are staying because this is the community that they live in, the patients are their families, they want to stay. But at the same time, they can’t stay when the wages are bad. Even if you love this hospital, who’s going to feed your family?”
Hopkins says that hospital service workers who clean patient rooms are making barely above minimum wage, making it very difficult for them to provide for their families.
“This is a hospital that says that they are a hospital of faith, right? If they are going to follow their faith, they need to help the poor. Because literally, our members, these are immigrants, people of color, they know that the obstacles are high against them anyway, are really hard against them. But they’re showing up. And their employer is choosing to pay them less.”
The union’s demands can be summed up in four succinct points:
- Safe staffing
- Wages that recruit and retain
- An environment of respect and racial justice
- Robust and helpful benefits
“Other hospitals have taken up that banner to do the right thing.” Hopkins says. “We are saying to [St. Anne] ‘you need to do the same thing.’ They don’t have a choice anymore.”
Alia Sinclair is a writer residing in SeaTac. She is passionate about the arts and connecting people through the written word. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Patchwork Mosaic, a magazine for creatives.