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A major victory for hospital caregivers and for patient safety

‘Clean’ rest break bill passes both houses after massive show of support


OLYMPIA (April 25, 2019) — The safety of hospital patients and their frontline caregivers drew national attention in the past week, culminating in hundreds of nurses, medical technicians, and their supporters rallying at the State Capitol on Wednesday — and then celebrating. Legislators in both the state Senate and House passed long-sought legislation later Wednesday that will ensure that nurses and other frontline healthcare workers in Washington state get uninterrupted meal and rest breaks.

Following a Republican senator’s dismissive remarks about nurses’ workloads — suggesting they “probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day” — a flood of emails, mail, and phone calls (and decks of cards) from supporters of hospital workers across the nation hit Olympia. Ultimately, amendments that had previously “blown up” the rest-break bill (SHB 1155) were removed in conference committee.

And a few hours after hundreds bill supporters rallied on the Capitol steps Wednesday morning, The Senate voted 32-16 and the House voted 70-24 to approve the bill with those labor-opposed amendments removed. SHB 1155 now heads to the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee, who expressed his support for the nurses in person at the morning rally and is expected to sign it.

“This is about patient safety,” said Larry Brown, President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, to the nurses at Wednesday morning’s rally. “We have a lot in common. We’re all members of the union and we’re all some day going to need your help at critical times. I know my family has gone through it this year and last year with my mom who just recently passed. But she would not have had the last year if it had not been for the care she got at St. Joe’s Hospital.”

The three unions for hospital caregivers — UFCW 21, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, and the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) — issued a joint statement thanking legislators, including bill sponsors Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent) and Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane), for passing the clean bill:

“After nearly a decade of work by thousands of hospital nurses, techs, patients and supporters, Washington is joining many other states, including Oregon and California, in better protecting hospital patients. By guaranteeing rest breaks to nurses and other frontline caregivers during their long shifts, and prohibiting mandatory overtime, Washington hospitals will reduce the chances for medical errors.”

On average, 400,000 patients die each year in the U.S. from avoidable medical errors, according to a study in the Journal of Patient Safety. Medical errors are now the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. after cancer and heart disease. Avoidable medical errors cost an estimated $19.5 billion annually in the U.S., including medical expenses, mortality, and loss of productivity.

The three unions also thanked the WSLC and its affiliated unions, which joined together in strong support of the bill to help ensure its passage. Labor leaders and lobbyists (some of whom are pictured at right) from multiple unions — from the building trades to the firefighters — backed the nurses’ cause in the halls of the Capitol. And this week, a remarkable collection of WSLC affiliates and community organizations sent legislators a letter urging passage of SHB 1155 without harmful amendments that limit work hours and exempt certain hospitals.

“Please do the right thing, and pass a healthcare worker break and overtime bill that honors and respects the workers who do so much for the rest of us,” the letter reads. “Reject efforts to amend the bill that treats one set of workers differently than their coworkers, and ensure that all healthcare workers, in all hospitals – rural and urban – are treated with dignity and respect.”

The letter was signed by:

21 Progress

American Federation of Teachers, Washington

A. Philip Randolph Institute

Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance

Casa Latina

Church Council of Greater Seattle

Community Alliance for Global Justice

Economic Opportunity Institute

Faith Action Network

Got Green

International Association of Machinists 751

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, 77

International Union of Operating Engineers, 302

International Union of Painters & Allied Trades, District Council 5

Ironworkers 86

Jobs with Justice, Whatcom County

Legal Voice

Kitsap County Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO

LGBTQ Allyship

LELO: Legacy of Equality, Leadership, & Organizing


National Organization for Women (NOW), Seattle Chapter

Northwest Health Law Advocates

Northwest Washington Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO


Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters

Partnering with Youth Achievement

Pride at Work

Protec 17

Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action

Real Change

Retired Public Employees Council, Washington

San Juan County Democrats

SEIU 775

SEIU 925

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW

Skagit County Labor Democrats Workgroup


Statewide Poverty Action Network

Tacoma Ministerial Alliance

Teamsters, Joint Council 28

Teamsters 117

Teamsters 231

Teamsters 690

Teamsters 760

Teamsters 763

Teamsters 839

Thurston-Lewis-Mason Counties Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO

Transit Riders Union

Unemployment Law Project

United Food and Commercial Workers, 21

Washington Education Association

Washington Federation of State Employees, AFSCME Council 28

Washington Public Employees Association, UFCW 365

Washington State Association for Justice

Washington State Alliance for Retired Americans

Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council

Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Washington State Command Council/ National Association for Black Veterans

Washington State Council of County and City Employees, AFSCME Council 2

Washington State Council of Fire Fighters:

46 Everett Firefighters

404 Walla Walla

437 Bremerton

469 Yakima

864 Renton Firefighters

876 Spokane Valley

1052 Richland, Prosser, West Richland,

1258 Moses Lake

1296 Kennewick

1433 Pasco

1537 Anacortes Firefighters

1760 Shoreline Firefighters

1828 South Snohomish County Union Firefighters

1892 Pullman

1919 Cheney

2299 Clarkson

2459 Northshore Firefighters

2819 Kitsap County Firefighters

2916 Spokane Co Fire district 9 & 10

2933 Clallam County Firefighters (Sequim)

3542 Sunnyside

3701 Spokane Valley Chiefs

3711 Spokane County District 8

3829 Dupont Firefighters

3916 Granite Falls Firefighters

4333 Stevens County

4418 Grant County Professional Firefighter

4965 Tri-County Firefighters (Franklin #3, Walla Walla #5)

5133 Whidbey Paramedics

5134 Cascade Paramedics (Leavenworth)

I-24 Hanford Firefighters, Benton #2

Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO

Washington State Nurses Association

Working Washington/Fair Work Center


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