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Strike announcement delayed at St. Mary and other Providence hospitals

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Providence St. Mary Medical Center

Providence St. Mary Medical Center is the third-largest employer in Walla Walla County.

Plans to announce a strike of about 13,000 nurses and other health care workers at Providence hospitals across the state, including at St. Mary Medical Center, were put on hold this morning with significant progress in negotiations, labor representatives said today.

The three unions representing Washington employees had said Thursday they intended to give the required 10-day notice of a strike this morning if a tentative agreement could not be reached.

But in a news release from SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, the Washington State Nurses Association, and UFCW 21, representatives said joint discussions in the last 24 hours have had the most significant results to date.

“The parties will go back to the table to continue bargaining their respective contracts,” the announcement said. “We are committed to working through outstanding shared interests regarding patient safety, workplace violence prevention, and recruitment and retention.”

At St. Mary, about 300 nurses are represented by United Food and Commercial Workers 21. Providence employs about 1,440 people in Walla Walla. Of those, 959 are at St. Mary.

This hospital is one of 12 in the state where contract negotiations have been in the works for months or, in some cases, more than a year, the unions said.

Negotiations have centered around four key issues: staffing levels to provide enough registered nurses and other staff on each shift, competitive wages to recruit and retain quality long-term nurses, protection of sick leave banks and unfair labor practice charges.

“After late-night discussions with representatives from United Food and Commercial Workers 21,” said Kathleen Obenland, director of communications for Providence Health & Services Southeast Washington Service Area, “the bargaining team from Providence St. Mary Medical Center is very pleased that the union and its bargaining team have agreed to expedited negotiations that will extend throughout the week to work towards agreements for the local contract at Providence St. Mary.”

“This is a positive step toward reaching our shared goal of mutually agreeable contract terms.”

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 509-526-8321.

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.