TUKWILA, Wash. — A strike among nursing staff at a hospital in Tukwila continues to create tension as COVID-19 cases spike across Washington.
For weeks, workers at Cascade Behavioral Health say they had been working in unsafe conditions within the psychiatric units, and the continuing COVID-19 crisis has created even more risk.
It’s been nearly four weeks since workers left their jobs, saying that safety is not sufficient. They are asking management for a safe workplace free from violence.
Workers said that on Aug. 1, an employee was hurt during a violent incident involving a patient inside the hospital. After that, people walked off the job.
Employee Vijay Prasad said safety is an ongoing issue at the hospital.
“They really don’t care about the staff’s safety over here,” said Prasad.
In an open letter to the community posted on the hospital’s website, Cascade CEO Chris West said, in part:
“The union has been trying to apply unfair — and in some cases, we believe unlawful — external pressures to this process, including picketing, work stoppages, smear campaigns and false accusations.
“We want to quickly reach a fair resolution so we can resume normal operations.” Read the full letter here.
The standoff between some hospital staff and their employer has not shown any signs of resolving.
“We don’t feel safe here. We’re kind of threatened for our life,” said Prasad.
Staff also claimed COVID-19 safety protocols were lax.
“The employer not providing us the proper PPE did not stop us from coming to work here,” said Cascade nurse Melat Mekonnen.
“It was a big concern. We have to ask for everything,” said Prasad.
Some of the striking workers have already been fired for leaving their posts.
With COVID-19 still an issue and medical facilities pushed to the brink, it’s not clear what could bring the strike to a close.
“They should respect us as nurses and caregivers. We know what we’re doing,” said Mekonnen.
Staff who stopped working at the hospital said they have made their case to both the state health department as well as the Department of Labor and Industries.
A statement from Cascade Behavioral Health’s director of business development, Diana Chinea, MBA, follows:
“We enter negotiations this week with strong commitment to the bargaining process. We hope that the Union will join us at the table this week with the same sense of engagement and urgency. We will continue to negotiate in good faith with the hope of resuming normal operations as soon as possible.
“One item we intend to reiterate to the Union is our unwavering duty to the well-being and safety of staff and patients are our top priorities. We will demonstrate how seriously we take that responsibility through the recent analysis and measurement we conducted as part of our regular assessments and monitoring.
“We will show them that:
- From 2018 to 2021, physical confrontation incidents decreased by 49.6 percent with an annual average rate decrease of 28.9 percent.
- During that same time, use of restraints is down 39.8 percent, with an annual average decrease in volume of 23 percent.
- And elopements decreased 80.4 percent.
“We will point out that these results, in addition to a recent police report from the Tukwila Police (which can be found on their Facebook page), tell a much different story than the one that the Union has been saying in their public statements. These results show a positive trend driven by a committed staff, a low turnover in our people, disciplined training, necessary safety resources and security monitoring.
“Lastly, we will remind them that we have filed for emergency relief with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) because their strike is unlawful. We hope to resolve our differences at the negotiating table, but we have taken this step to defend our facility and patients from illegal practices.
“This is a critical time for mental health services in the communities we serve. We remain a safe and reliable source for comprehensive care. Now is not the time to decrease the access to care for behavioral health. Our medical-surgical partners are counting on our resources during this ongoing pandemic.”
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