About 1,100 employees of Tacoma’s CHI Franciscan Health system go on 24-hour strike

UPDATE, 9:40 a.m. Tuesday: Dozens of CHI Franciscan Health employees marched a picket line this morning at St. Joseph Medical Center and St. Clare Hospital, part of a 24-hour strike called during contentious contract negotiations.

For the approximately 800 workers at St. Joe’s, the contract negotiations have gone on for more than a year. Workers at St. Clare have been negotiating since June.

A news release Tuesday morning from the Service Employees International Union Local 1199NW provided these details:

“The strike follows months of bringing concerns to the negotiation table where the caregivers stood alongside community activists in calling on CHI Franciscan to fix its broken charity care policy and invest in Pierce County patients and workers. Following little action from CHI Franciscan, caregivers felt there was no other alternative but to stand up for patients and our community by striking.

“The workers, members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, are calling for improved staffing, increased investment in frontline caregivers, a charity care policy that keeps patients out of debt, and an end to unfair labor practices.”

Franciscan posted on its Facebook page that “(w)e respect the right of our employees to take this action.”

Spokesman Scott Thompson said Tuesday that Franciscan has corrected “deficiencies” in its charity care process since the union began raising concerns, including being more clear in its communication with patients and processing applications in a more timely manner.

“If a patient is in collections, that is a last resort,” Thompson said. “We have exhausted all other options to help them pay their bills.”

As for staffing, Thompson said the hospitals continue to hire in certain job classes affected by the strike and have increased the number of jobs recently in the janitorial staff.

At St. Joe’s, he said, the janitorial staff increased from 101 to 106 employees between the end of August and mid-October. Several positions are open as well.

Thompson also said that the health system presented a wage scale that “we feel is market proposal and offers increases to every position that the union represents.”

To cover the jobs affected by the strike, employees were shifted around for the day, he said. Any gaps remaining were filled with workers from temporary staffing agencies.

The hospitals are open.

ORIGINAL STORY: Some 1,100 health care workers at two Pierce County hospitals will hold a one-day strike Tuesday, Nov. 18.

Members of Service Employees International Union Local 1199NW will walk off the job beginning at 7 a.m. to protest a failure to agree on a contract for its members at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma and St. Clare Hospital in Lakewood. The strike will last 24 hours.

A union official said Monday afternoon that no bargaining is scheduled. A session last Wednesday ended at 8 p.m. with no resolution.

About 800 employees at St. Joe’s have been bargaining their contract since October 2013. Some 300 employees of St. Clare have been bargaining since June. The union notified CHI Franciscan Health, the hospitals’ parent company, last week that it intended to strike. Such a notification is required by law to allow the hospitals time to find replacement workers.

Franciscan officials expect to keep negotiating after the strike, spokesman Scott Thompson said via email. A federal mediator is involved in negotiations over the contract at St. Joe’s, he said.

As for St. Clare, Thompson said the hospital system is “surprised the SEIU would take a strike action so early in the negotiation process” there.

The employees covered by the contract at St. Joe’s run the gamut, from dietary workers to housekeepers to people who sterilize instruments, though no doctors or nurses. At St. Clare’s, the workers are those with technical certifications who work in specialized departments such as radiology.