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Behavioral Health Workers, Bellingham Nurses Walk Off Job In One-Day Strikes

Workers at a South King County psychiatric hospital are walking off the job Thursday, one day after another unit of the same SEIUHealthcare local staged a one-day strike at a Bellingham hospital.

Nurses and other workers at Cascade Behavioral Health in Tukwila say they’re protesting stalled contract talks and inadequate staffing. Carol Myers, a detox unit nurse, says when the private company Acadia took over the former non-profit hospital, it cut staffing levels in the geriatric psych unit.

“These people are fall risks and incontinent and you need additional staff in order to keep these people clean. And that’s really overwhelming for the amount of staff that they’re given,” she says.

Cascade CEO Michael Uradnik says the staffing ratio is safe and up to industry standards. He says he’s still hopeful the sides can reach an agreement.

“I’d have preferred if they hadn’t done it, absolutely. Does it make me further entrenched and more bitter? No. This is part of what you want to do, that’s fine. It’s a one-day action. After [Thursday] we’re going to get down to negotiating again,” he says.

The hospital plans to remain open during the one-day strike, with replacement workers trained to step in.

The day before, another SEIU Healthcare 1199 unit walked out of PeaceHealth St. Joseph Hospital in Bellingham for a one-day strike.

About 900 nursing assistants, lab techs and others say they’ve been bargaining for a new contract for a year-and-a-half, and that management has not come through with wage and benefits offers that would let them make a living.

Amy Denniston is a respiratory therapist and a member of the bargaining committee. She says her health insurance premiums went up 150 percent in the last few years, and many co-workers have it worse.

“We’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of caregivers who are putting their kids on AppleCare, they’re at the food banks, they’re deferring having medical treatment,” she said.

Hospital spokeswoman Beverly Mayhew says PeaceHealth has offered a total 11 percent boost in compensation over the contract’s first 15 months. She says the benefits package in the offer is competitive.

“It’s our strong desire to continue to bargain in good faith toward settlement. And we were disappointed that they chose to strike instead of continuing at the bargaining table,” she said.

PeaceHealth hired replacement workers and says the hospital is functioning normally.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.