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Published Thursday, February 29, 2024 in The Everett Herald

Months After Strike, Nurses Reach Contract With Providence Everett

The new contract, 10 months in the making, includes bonuses and extra pay to counterbalance chronic understaffing.

By Sydney Jackson

Months After Strike, Nurses Reach Contract With Providence Everett

After months of tense negotiations, nurses at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett have approved a contract with the hospital, the nurses' union announced Wednesday.

An "overwhelming majority" of about 1,300 nurses approved the contract in a vote held at the hospital's Pacific Campus this week, according to a union statement. The contract comes after 10 months of negotiations, a five-day strike and a tentative deal that failed in December, with 51.8% of nurses voting against.

The approved contract will provide nurses a 21.5% pay increase over three years, increased benefits and compensation for chronic understaffing. Terms will ensure pay comparable with other hospitals in the region by requiring Providence to review and adjust its wages each year to align with market wages.

"This victory includes groundbreaking contract language aimed at helping staffing challenges," the union statement reads. "From the outset of negotiations, our primary focus has been to tackle the pressing issues of staffing shortages and patient safety concerns head-on."

In a statement, Providence said it was "proud of the bargaining teams' hard work to negotiate and deliver a fair contract for our nurses."

"We look forward to working with UFCW to ensure our patients and community continue to have access to the high-quality care PRMCE is known for," the hospital's statement read.

Providence Everett has lost more than 600 nurses since 2019, forcing the hospital to shut down 100 beds. The hospital hired some nurses back, Chief Nursing Officer Michelle Lundstrom said in October, but "in a perfect world" should have about 400 more. The understaffing is partly due to a nationwide nurse shortage, Lundstrom said, and there is no easy solution.

With the new contract, nurses will receive a $500 monthly bonus when their shifts are understaffed. For staffing issues that extend over at least three months, the contract requires the hospital and nurses' union to meet with a mediator. The hospital's staffing committee, made of at least 50% nurses, will then consider the mediator's suggestions.

The contract also requires the staffing committee to approve changes to the hospital's staffing and care model.

In response to staffing challenges, Providence has begun shifting its hospital system, with more than 50 locations nationwide, toward a care model that distributes more work to assistant nurses and virtual nurses, requiring fewer registered nurses on staff. Everett nurses have pushed against this model, saying it hasn't helped staffing issues but instead puts a dangerous workload on staff.

On Nov. 14, nurses walked off the job to picket the hospital for five days. Striking nurses said the hospital had not kept to its agreed upon staffing plans, leading to an exhausted staff and endangered patients. At that time, the hospital had rejected nurses' ask for higher pay on understaffed shifts.

"The strike was grueling and humiliating," nurse Aaron Warnock said Tuesday. "But it was done for the hope of a robust, comprehensive and competitive deal."

In December, nurses voted against the first potential contract because it didn't have strong enough language to keep the hospital accountable to its staffing plans, according to the union.

Warnock said he thought the deal failed because it was rushed after the strike ended.
"I feel like we weren't given enough time to read and consider the contract," he said. "Nurses were voting on recommendations by hearsay rather than coming to their own conclusions."

On Feb. 9, nurses and management reached their second tentative agreement. The union negotiated more changes to the contract based on input from a nurse survey.

"The second deal is much better, it is much more concise," Warnock said. And "it provides a retention bonus for all nurses rather than just nurses who start a few years later."

The contract includes other perks such as higher pay during overnight shifts, a $1,000 bonus to all registered nurses, and administrative pay for the staffing committee chairs.

Contract terms expire on Oct. 30, 2026. Negotiations to update the contract may begin as early as March. 31, 2026.