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Hundreds of Providence nurses take to the picket line in Everett

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Hundreds of nurses at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett went on the picket line Tuesday morning after authorizing a five-day strike.

UFCW 3000, the union representing health care workers at the medical center, said in a statement that the strike was over unfair labor practices.

The major sticking point in contract negotiations is over staffing levels and pay. The union and Providence have been in negotiations for months over a new contract for roughly 1,300 nurses.

Their last contract expired at the end of October and negotiations stalled in early November.

The hospital brought in replacement nurses to fill positions that are vacant during the strike.

"We are extremely disappointed that UFCW has rejected our contract proposal and chosen to strike," Providence said in a statement.

The hospital also expressed disappointment that their contract offer has been rejected. The hospital says that their offer would increase nurse pay by 21.5% over three years, with an average 13% increase upon ratification.

Striking employees countered that, while those raises my look good on paper, it won't bring nurses up to par with colleagues at other hospitals.

"It's quite simple. We're 13% behind Swedish Edmonds," said Kristen Crowder, a labor and delivery nurse and member of the union bargaining team.

"That's not even the most competitive or highest paid hospital in the region. So, we're not competitive to our other area hospitals. And we're not even competitive with our sister hospital," she said.

In October, Kaiser Permanente Washington employees also voted to walk off the job as they were reaching the end of their contract and negotiations weren't going the way that they wanted.

RELATED: Kaiser health care workers in Washington state vote to strike

That strike was averted because the union and management reached a deal before the strike began.

The multiple strike authorizations point to the ways the Covid pandemic has further stressed the health care system.

Many hospitals have concerns about their financial position coming out of the pandemic and that has played a role in negotiations at other institutions.

Meanwhile, hospital employees are concerned about staffing levels.

"That's creating some real tension for health care workers who feel overworked, but also feel that this weight of patients potentially not getting the level of care that they want to give them," said KUOW's Kate Walters, who is covering this story.

RELATED: Nearly a third of nurses nationwide say they are likely to leave the profession

Listen to Soundside’s full conversation with Kate Walters by clicking the play icon at the top of this story.

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