We fought hard.’ Virginia Mason nurses win great contract

Oct. 10 informational picket was big turning point

This story was published in the Winter 2024 issue of The Washington Nurse.

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Nurses at Virginia Mason Medical Center ratified a three-year contract Nov. 20 after a hard fight. The contract came after 19 bargaining sessions, an informational picket, and a complaint filed with Labor and Industries over workplace safety.

The 650 nurses represented by the Washington State Nurses Association won substantial wage increases, with mid-range and higher-range nurses earning the top nurse wages in Seattle.

“We fought hard for safe staffing language, break nurses, workplace violence prevention measures, and wages that will actually make our hospital competitive in the Seattle market,” said Hannah Collins-Lewis, a member of the bargaining team. “I believe this contract will aid in improving recruitment and retention. Nurses now have a reason to stay.”

The agreement also addresses workplace violence concerns by installing a metal detector in the emergency room and establishing a task force including staff nurses that will look at other measures, including registering guests as they enter the building.

On the staffing front, Virginia Mason agreed that charge nurses should not be given patient loads and that the hospital must develop a system other than “break buddies” to cover legally mandated breaks. Under the break buddy system, another nurse covers both their patients and another nurse’s while that nurse goes on break, causing a potential safety concern.

This is the first WSNA contract in which virtual nurses will be part of the union.

“I’m very pleased with the outcome of our negotiations!” said Michael Salters, who was also on the bargaining team. “It was a long fight, but we had 650 union-strong nurses standing behind us, and it’s really their solidarity that pushed us over the finish line. We were able to achieve many of things we sought out initially.”

The informational picket Oct. 10 was a big turning point.

Nurses stepped up to talk to the media about their concerns about staffing and workplace violence.

As the Seattle Times reported, “Hundreds of nurses lined Seattle streets in front of Virginia Mason Medical Center during a pair of Tuesday pickets, hoping to push the hospital into addressing recent safety scares and attacks on staffers.

“Nurses aimed to bring attention to what they say are worsening incidents of workplace violence in the state’s hospitals — especially at Virginia Mason’s downtown hospital,” said registered nurse Brad Rathke. He and other nurses, along with a group of local and state elected officials and labor leaders who made appearances, emphasized the connection between assaults and ongoing issues of staffing shortages, retention and pay.

“I am so sick of having short staffing at work,” Rathke said to the crowd Tuesday.” (See interview on facing page.)

WSNA brought star power to the picket, including April Sims, president of the Washington State Labor Council, which represents 550,000 union workers; State Rep. Liz Berry (D-Seattle), chair of the House Labor Committee; and Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, among many others. Speakers told nurses they are part of a huge labor movement sweeping the country.

On Oct. 13, The Seattle Times published an opinion piece by Allison Wortman, a young nurse on the unit titled: “Listen to nurses, the lifeblood of the hospital.” Below are the first few paragraphs.

“I graduated from nursing school three years ago, but I feel like I’m in Whoville.

I work at Virginia Mason Medical Center, which was recently purchased by CommonSpirit Health, a nonprofit hospital chain that operates 140 hospitals in 21 states.

Now, it feels like no one can hear me or my fellow nurses.

It’s unclear how decisions are being made and what we can do about it. CommonSpirit and other hospital chains must stop governing from the top down and include nurses at the table.”

WSNA congratulates the bargaining unit, organizers, and counsel for not giving up and getting a great contract.


June 22 - First day of negotiations

Oct. 10 - Informational picket

Oct. 10 - News coverage on KOMO-TV, KING-TV, KIRO-TV KIRO radio, FOX-TV, and picked up by other outlets, including MSN and Yahoo News

Oct. 11 - News coverage in the Seattle Times with photos

Oct. 13 - Op-ed in The Seattle Times

Oct. 26 - WSNA filed a complaint with Labor & Industries’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health over workplace violence; various outlets covered the filing

Oct. 26 - Nurses meet with three representatives from Washington’s 43rd Legislative District: Representatives Nicole Macri and Frank Chopp, as well as Senator Jamie Pedersen

Nov. 8 - Tentative agreement reached after late-night bargaining session

Nov. 20 - Contract ratified