On the Picket Line

Washington doctors, health care workers strike for patient safety

By Edwin Fruit
December 14, 2020

TACOMA, Wash. — Members of the Union of American Physicians and Dentists conducted a strike here Nov. 23-24 at Tacoma General Hospital and area clinics run by MultiCare Indigo Urgent Care.

The UAPD, an affiliate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, won a union election in 2019 and is still bargaining for its first contract. The union represents doctors, dentists, physician assistants and nurse practitioners at some 20 urgent care facilities in the Puget Sound area.

“As doctors we are not trained in the direction of thinking about needing a labor union,” Dr. Brian Fox told the Militant  Nov. 24 on the picket line at MultiCare Indigo in Burien. “What led us to strike is the safety of our patients and of the staff, which is endangered by the extended shifts we work without breaks and by the lack of personal protective equipment.

“The public has been very supportive,” he said. “Our patients offer to bring us masks. Our two-day strike is intended to get the company’s attention and to bring them back to the table for negotiations.”

“After a two-year fight for recognition of our union and one year of bargaining for a first contract,” the Union of American Physicians and Dentists bargaining team said in a letter to MultiCare, it has become clear to us that “management has not taken our concerns as providers seriously, especially when it comes to the most important issue: patient safety.”

“MultiCare is closing down a number of its clinics and laying off health care workers in the middle of a pandemic,” Dr. Jocelyn Devita said on the picket line in Tacoma. “As the company becomes more corporatized, profits are their main concern.

“Doctors are considered ‘exempt’ employees from labor standards because they are salaried,” she said. “We can’t take a rest break or even a lunch break and may see as many as 70 patients a day. And you have to stay until the last patient is seen, sometimes resulting in more than 12-hour days.”

“Even though N95 masks are available, the company won’t let doctors or staff wear them,” union organizer Gabrielle Hanley said. “The company claims these masks ‘scare’ patients, so doctors shouldn’t use them.”

Workers from the Washington State Nurses Association, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Firefighters and Teamsters union, as well as from Walmart, joined the picket lines in solidarity.