This article has been updated to incorporate additional reporting.
As Legacy Health leaders work on a proposed merger agreement into Oregon Health & Science University, its workforce continues to organize into unions at blinding speed.
On Dec. 6, more than 40 nurse practitioners and physician assistants at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center and Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center signed cards calling for a union election to join the Oregon Nurses Association. That same day, about 150 technical employees at Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center in Tualatin voted to form a union affiliated with the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.
The latest developments follow a string of several actions at Legacy, which operates eight hospitals and many dozens of clinics in Oregon and Washington. Among the recent moves:
- In April, nurses at Legacy Mt. Hood Medical Center in Gresham voted to join the nurses association.
- In August mental and behavioral health workers at the Legacy-operated Unity Center for Behavioral Health joined the same union.
- In November, advanced practice providers and other workers at Legacy’s women’s health clinics filed to force a union election.
- Later that month, physicians at some Legacy hsopitals voted to join the Pacific Northwest Hospital Medicine Association.
Legacy, which has experienced a period of significant financial losses, had long been a holdout in the trend toward unionizing hospitals. It's filed a federal lawsuit accusing state officials of improperly pressing it to unionize, and had managed to fend off employees' organizing efforts in a way that most other health systems had not.
Publicly, Legacy has consistently said it's OK with the changes under way. "Legacy respects an employee’s right to choose whether to be represented by a union and will respect the outcome of any petition to unionize,” one Legacy spokesperson, Ryan Frank, said in a recent statement to The Lund Report.
A spokesperson for ONFHP attributed the recent vote in Tualatin to the proposed merger with OHSU, writing that for employees, “being unionized will help to ensure their voice is heard during the transition.”
But Kevin Mealy, a spokesperson for the Oregon Nurses Association, thinks there’s more than the OHSU merger behind the sudden change at Legacy.
“What providers are telling us is that this is about much more, they feel that they've lost their professional autonomy. They feel that Legacy has been more concerned with profitability than patient care ... They want to restore their role as patient advocates and ensure that they have the resources and support they need, and give patients the care that they got into medicine to do.”
He suspects recent union contract victories have also played a role.