Nurses and service workers at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane are holding a vote this week on whether to strike.
Negotiations are continuing, but Darryl Johnson, the grievance officer for the Washington State Nurses Association, says the union objects to cuts the hospital proposes to make to the nurses' extended illness benefits, or EIT, bank, which accrue over the years.
Johnson says, in its place, Providence is prepared to use the state’s new family and medical leave law to take up the slack.
“Wherever that health care bar is set for coverage or benefits is going to affect the entire community. It’s not just going to affect 1,900 nurses. It’s not just going to affect the UFCW [United Food and Commercial Workers] members that are standing in solidarity with us," Johnson said. "Holy Family starts negotiations very soon. Deaconess doesn’t have a union. And with the Washington state Medical Leave Act, a lot of the burden is going to be placed on the taxpayers."
Susan Stacey, the chief nursing officer at Providence, says she can’t comment directly on that claim, but says the sick leave package currently being offered is a fair one.
“I think one of the things to remember is our plan offers more income security for an illness or injury, regardless of how much someone may have in the EIT bank," Stacey said. "It’s important to remember that half of our nurses have fewer than 100 hours of sick leave, and that’s why we’re offering an employer-paid, short-term disability that provides income replacement support for up to 25 weeks."
The nurses' union and service and maintenance union members will vote Thursday and Friday to decide if they will strike.
The Providence spokeswoman says there would be a 10-day period before any walkout begins to allow the hospital time to put together a staff of replacement workers.