MultiCare healthcare workers strike, urging need for more PPEs, staff support

Healthcare workers with MultiCare Indigo Urgent Care went on strike Monday to bring awareness they say to a lack of proper protective equipment provided to staff and ongoing worker fatigue, as COVID-19 cases continue to spike in Washington state.

Doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other members of the labor community took to the picket lines outside the MultiCare Tacoma General to support striking providers for day one of two days planned to strike.

Healthcare workers told Q13 News’ John Hopperstad they are exhausted, working often times over 12-hour shifts with long shifts with less staff.

“If they cannot provide us with the basic necessities like N95, what makes you think they will care about any of our other demands? So you start off with the N95 and this kind of came to a head, unfortunately with the pandemic. It’s a simple thing. This is the simplest, simplest necessity,” said Dr. Parminder Singh, a MultiCare Physician. 

“We’re done, we’re tired. We’re in the middle of an actual pandemic and our members can’t even bring in their own safety gear. They can’t go home at a reasonable time. Sometimes they’re seeing upwards of 70 patients a day, by themselves, with two support staffs. This is unsafe working conditions,” said John Crane, a union administrator.

Negotiations between MultiCare management and healthcare workers have been ongoing for 15 months. The Union of American Physicians and Dentists says they plan to picket for a second day at MultiCare hospitals across the state on Tuesday.

MultiCare says physicians are being provided the proper protective gear, saying in a statement to Q13 News in part:

Friday and Saturday, we worked with a federal mediator and representatives from UAPD to re-affirm our priority for a fair contract that supports staff and patient safety and the communities we serve. We also renewed our proposal to immediately start the Joint Safety Committee. We clarified our intent to make employee and patient safety related to COVID-19 the first order of business when the committee convenes. As we’ve consistently stated, we believe a collaborative, thoughtful discussion involving providers and subject matter experts is the best way to develop appropriate protocols and PPE programs for the unique settings in our urgent care clinics. We were disappointed UAPD rejected our Safety Committee proposal and provided no alternate proposal.  

Saturday morning, based on some guidance from the mediator, we made a formal written proposal that would have allowed the parties to keep talking and avert the strike. UAPD again rejected our proposal. It appears to us that UAPD thinks it is more important to ‘send a message’ by striking than do the hard work to finalize the collective bargaining agreement we have been working on for more than a year. UAPD has continued its months-long pattern of appearing to meet us in the middle, then bringing up new or old issues we understood to be resolved.

We also hear and share the frustration from these employees in the lack of progress, and how we all want to move forward. While we respect the union’s rights to push for terms that they find favorable, we want to stress that it is always more productive for both parties to remain at the bargaining table.

MultiCare healthcare worker in Personal Protective Equipment. (Photo: MultiCare Indigo Urgent Care)