Healthcare unions work to expand wages and benefits

by Erin Freeman

Governor Jay Inslee and the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) announced on March 7 that workers’ compensation protections have extended to health care workers under quarantine for COVID-19. These benefits include medical testing, treatment expenses if a worker becomes ill and provides time-loss payments for those who cannot work if they are sick or quarantined. The issued directive on workers’ compensation coverage is specifically applicable to workers exposed to COVID-19 on the job.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 119NW, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) 21 and the Washington State Nurses Association have come together to ask employers to provide additional resources and support to their members. 

“We need our employers and our government to step up for us. Nurses and health care workers must have the resources to ensure our health and our families are protected as we fight this pandemic,” said a communications staff member at Swedish Edmonds employee union SEIU Healthcare.

Swedish Edmonds was unavailable for comment on the resources the hospital offers quarantined or infected caregivers. 

Washington state union representatives are working to reach an agreement to ensure that anyone working in a healthcare facility, who has potentially contracted COVID-19, will be placed on administrative leave with no loss of pay or benefits- despite the location of exposure. Additionally, they ask that the employers create accommodating work opportunities for highly vulnerable groups or provide them with paid leave with no loss of pay or accrued time off. 

“We’re stronger together and it’s the right thing to do, to be there for each other in the union,” said Zeynab Jama, a registered nurse at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center.

UFCW21, a private-sector union in Washington representing Providence Regional Medical Center employees, says they are working with the state and employers to ensure that everyone has access to paid leave and benefits if they are quarantined.

Casey Calamusa, spokesperson for Everett’s Providence Regional Medical Center, says that Providence is providing 80 hours of emergency time-off for each caregiver to use if necessary, through May 31. It will be accessible to employees who have used all of their accumulated paid time off, Extended Illness Bank (EIB) and sick/annual leave. Caregivers who have become ill from COVID-19 are guaranteed a partial income replacement after utilizing their accrued time off. 

“After all time-off with pay is exhausted for these caregivers including emergency time-off, if there is a need for continuing time-off due to the caregiver’s COVID-19 illness, our family of organizations’ has committed to providing caregivers with 65% pay until they can return to work,” said Calamusa. 

Providence is addressing employee quarantine claims falling outside of the L&I directive individually, and on a case by case basis. 

A registered nurse at Providence Regional Medical Center has been self-quarantining since March 9, due to an underlying health condition that increases her susceptibility to severe COVID-19 illness.

The nurse, who asked to remain anonymous, consulted her primary health care provider who told her that her compromised immune system makes her a highly vulnerable individual and that she should not be directly treating patients. 

“I haven’t been exposed to the virus, but since I’m considered a vulnerable person, I can’t be working with patients without putting myself at potentially serious risk,” explained the nurse. “Right now, the hospital is looking at how I can be supported during this challenging time in healthcare, so that I can continue to stay healthy and protect myself.”

As of March 27, Providence employees not infected with COVID-19 are not guaranteed the 65% of regular pay after using their collected time-off. 

For more information about the supports and resources unions are asking healthcare facilities to provide employees, visit their online petition at

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