Thousands of nurses at Swedish Healthcare strike for first time in its history

SEATTLE — Thousands of nurses at Swedish Healthcare are on strike, the first time in its history.

Some Swedish emergency rooms remain closed tonight. But officials there say they're weathering this first day just fine. They also say a third of the unionized nurses crossed the picket line to work.

But those on this picket line say the issue of patient safety is too important for them not to be here.

This was the soundtrack outside Swedish hospital on this first day of what these nurses say will be a three-day strike.

"It was not a hard decision," said Betsy Scott, "because it's gotten so terrible here."

Scott has spent her entire 38 year nursing career here.

"We didn't want to make this decision," Scott said. "But when management refused to negotiate with us, it was very clear that this is what we had to do."

What they had to do, the nurses say, because of the deep cuts the Catholic non-profit Providence Health has made since it acquired Swedish in 2012.

"I was not a big proponent of the union," admitted Lizette Vanunu, a Swedish nurse since 1988. "(But) when I saw the decline in the standards of care, I decided I need to step up to the plate. I need to be the voice of the patients that are fighting for their lives."

"My response is, you know what, we all care about patient safety," replied Swedish spokeswoman Mona Locke.

Locke says to ensure patient safety, the hospital flew thousands of nurses in from around the country. She reiterated Swedish won't bargain during the strike.

"We really need everyone focused on this effort to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks," Locke said.

Sia Puloka's cousin is hospitalized at Swedish. She hopes the strike shines a light on the nurses' grievances.

When asked if she supports the nurses on strike, she said, "Oh, yes, I do. Oh, yes, I do."

The union says it knows some of its members crossed the picket lines. But not a third, as the hospital is claiming.

Still, this strike is even affecting some supporters. A woman told KIRO 7 her mother died this morning to the sounds of the striking nurses. She says she was upset that was the last sound her mother heard.

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