Nurses rally for better staffing levels and improvements in benefits and pay.
Nurses rally for better staffing levels and improvements in benefits and pay. Courtesy SEIU 1199 NW

On Thursday organizers say close to 1,000 health care workers with SEIU 1199 NW and other unions demonstrated outside Swedish's First Hill campus, following a day of informational picketing at all seven of Swedish's locations in Seattle.

U.S. House Rep. Adam Smith, King County Executive Dow Constantine, King County Council Member Joe McDermott, State Rep. Rebecca Saldaña, State Rep. Nicole Macri, and Seattle City Council candidate Tammy Morales joined the demonstrations at various points throughout the day.

Since bargaining began last April, workers have been asking for better nurse-to-patient ratios, better wages and benefits, and more training and support for custodial staff. They point to high executive pay at Providence St. Joseph Health and the profitability of the company as evidence that the money is there.

According to their latest tax statements, Providence, a Catholic non-profit that acquired Swedish in 2012, compensates its executives to the tune of $41 million.

But as everyone knows, Providence must retain "top talent," and a $41 million compensation package for 16 executives is the going rate for those positions. So what do you expect these people to do? Invest more of their salary and bonuses in workers and in training so patients don't have unhealthy, stressed-out nurses trying to stick them with needles?

Ha ha ha, what kind of nonprofit hospital conglomerate would do that? One that took in $23 billion in revenue in 2017, including $780 million in profit? Certainly not. They'd go bankrupt trying to recruit and retain the people who actually run the place and provide the care.

Thursday's demonstrations come over a month after the Providence United Coalition, a group of unions representing over 20,000 caregivers and other health care workers statewide, rallied outside Providence headquarters in Renton asking for higher pay and better benefits.

Wages aren't keeping up with the cost of living and benefits for a lot of Providence workers apparently suck. According to the WA State Health Care Authority, over 3,700 Providence employees and their kids used Apple Health, the state's Medicaid program. Some of those workers are part-time, but, as we all know, part-time workers don't need affordable health care packages.

Workers who have health insurance through Swedish say they are struggling to pay medical bills, and some of their medical bills have been sent to collections.

Valerie Howard, a certified nursing assistant who has worked for Swedish nearly 22 years, says her provider sent her bills to collections three times since 2009.

Over the phone, Howard said her deductible is too high, and that Swedish's provider "sends you to collections without any warnings, calls, or attempts to make arrangements." On one of the three occasions she tried to arrange a payment plan through a collections agency but was denied and sent to court. That decision stuck her with her full bill, plus court costs.

Howard says it wasn't always like this. "When I first started working in 1998, we paid little-to-nothing as long as we went to Swedish for our care," she said. "After the hands changed over it wasn't like that anymore."

Despite what workers say are insufficient benefits, union leaders say Providence is trying to cut back on sick time for nurses and health care workers at the bargaining table.

I've asked Swedish for comment and will update this post when I hear back.