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About 1,100 Workers Go On Strike At Two Pierce County Hospitals

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW

About 1,100 hospital workers went on a 24-hour strike Tuesday at Saint Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma and Saint Clare Hospital in Lakewood, saying they’re frustrated they haven’t yet been able to work out new contracts with their employer, CHI Franciscan.

The workers include nursing assistants, secretaries, dietary workers, housekeepers, licensed practical nurses and some technicians. They belong to Service Employees International Union Healthcare 1199NW.

Why Workers Are Frustrated

There are a number of reasons why they’ve walked out, including staffing problems and wages, according to Chrystal Thompson, who works at Saint Clare sterilizing surgical equipment.

She says another big issue is that CHI Franciscan earlier this year froze the pension and shifted workers to a 401(k)-type retirement plan. She says 401(k) plans mean workers bear more of the risk.

"They fluctuate with how the market fluctuates, so it’s less security than what a pension is," Thompson said.

NLRB Files Complaint In Union's Favor

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board over the benefits switch. The labor board sided with the union and brought a complaint against the hospital network, saying the issue should have been collectively bargained. A hearing has been set for Jan. 6.

CHI Franciscan spokesman Scott Thompson says the hospital network is appealing the labor board's move. He says the retirement plan switch is designed to make it more sustainable.

"CHI – Catholic Health Initiatives – felt like moving to a 401(k) plan would provide better long-term financial viability and provide better investing options for all of the employees," Thompson said.

The strike is set to end Wednesday morning. Thompson says the hospitals are still open for business and have brought in other workers to cover the gaps left by the strikers.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.