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Sacred Heart workers appear headed for strike next week

Doug Nadvornick/Spokane Public Radio

The union representing 500 Providence Sacred Heart technical workers says an eight-day strike is likely to begin on Monday.

The workers' contract expired in November and both sides say negotiators working on a new deal haven’t made much progress.

Leaders of Spokane’s chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers union told reporters on Wednesday that they want to continue negotiating. But they say Providence officials have cut off negotiations until after the strike.

Susan Stacey, the chief executive for Providence in the Inland Northwest, confirms that.

“Our entire energy is being put into planning and preparing for our safe patient care during the strike and that is a complex job to make sure that we have everything put in place from our orientation for the workers who are coming in to making sure patients can enter and exit the hospital safely. There’s a tremendous amount of work and my priority at this time is making sure we’re there to take care of this community," she said.

Stacey says Providence has hired an outside consultant to find replacement workers while the company’s technicians are walking the picket line. It's not known how many of those will be imported from out of town.

Leaders of the United Food and Commercial Workers union accuse Providence of engaging in bad faith negotiations.

“Each party is supposed to commit to good faith practices and we feel that Providence has refused to uphold that standard. They continue to disrespect us at the bargaining table and within the bargaining process itself," said Derek Roybal, a cardiovascular technician at Sacred Heart.

Union negotiators say the company opened talks with an attempt to cut their medical and dental benefits.

Respiratory therapist Teresa Bowden says she feels like Providence doesn’t respect the work she and her colleagues do.

“I’ve been at Sacred Heart for more than 30 years, working through the Covid pandemic as a respiratory therapist," she said. "I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many patients die at one time. It was really hard. It was brutal for everyone in health care. But we kept showing up day after day and because we care for our patients and they know that they needed us. It’s been hard to keep enough staff to keep doing all the work.”

Stacey says Providence has offered a compensation package that’s competitive with the other hospitals in the Spokane area.

Union leaders dispute that, saying their peers at those other hospitals now make more money even though Sacred Heart sees the most and the most difficult-to-care-for patients. They say they presented a proposal to help the hospitals keep and add the workers who do specialized jobs.

The strike is scheduled to start at 2 pm on Monday and run until 8:30 pm on April 30. Union leaders say they will hold a Wednesday evening rally at Cowley Park to show solidarity with the 500 Sacred Heart workers.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.