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caption: Swedish First Hill Campus in Seattle.
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Swedish First Hill Campus in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

Nurses and caregivers at Swedish, Providence hospitals postpone strike

Health care workers at Swedish Medical Center and Providence hospitals won't go on strike, at least for now.

Thousands of workers across the state planned to announce Friday that they would strike on January 14. Instead, after overnight talks, they announced they’re heading back to the negotiating table.

Workers with SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, a union of nurses and health care workers, will continue bargaining with Swedish-Providence management over the weekend and through Friday next week in what the union called “marathon negotiating sessions”.

Another union also postponed strike notices after similar progress in overnight talks, according to SEIU Healthcare 1199NW.

Staffing levels, patient safety and wages are among the big issues at the center of negotiations.

Nurses and caregivers say understaffing is a huge concern. There are 900 open health care worker positions at Swedish health facilities.

Swedish management say there’s a national nursing shortage and their facilities are not exempt. They say they’re committed to working with the union to help attract and maintain staff.

In a statement, Swedish representatives said they’re pleased both sides have agreed to intensive negotiations through next week.

Margo Bykonen, chief nursing officer for Swedish and part of management, said they're hoping they can reach an agreement with the union and avoid a strike notice.

"We're optimistic that by having more time at the table together with the federal mediators that we will come out with a positive outcome," Bykonen said.

Valarie Howard works at Swedish First Hill in Seattle. She said she’s also hopeful a deal can be reached.

Howard said some progress has been made, but she wants to see more.

"We need to see some movement with staffing, safe patient care, compensation,” she said.

Howard said a strike is still possible if a deal is not reached by January 10. Staff would have to give 10-days’ notice before striking.