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Nurses union to picket Oregon Health & Science University as contract negotiations continue

The picket comes nearly a week after nurses concluded a limited strike at another health system. Nurses say staffing is a key issue .
OHSU hospital is one of several workplaces where nurses are picketing over ongoing contract talks. | COURTESY OHSU
June 29, 2023

Oregon’s largest nurses union is planning to picket the state’s largest hospital as the labor group continues to press health systems on working conditions and pay. 

The Oregon Nurses Association announced it will hold an informational picket on Oregon Health & Science University campus Thursday evening from 5 to 8 p.m on Marquam Hill. The planned picket and rally follows similar events it recently held at OHSU’s Hillsboro campus and at Astoria’s Columbia Memorial Hospital, which partners with the public research university. 

Nearly a week earlier, the nurses union concluded a historic five-day strike at Providence Health & Services to pressure the health system to improve wages, time off and employee retention for workers in three bargaining units. 

“The Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) represents more than 3,550 nurses in the OHSU system–two times more nurses than were represented in last week’s successful strikes against Providence,” reads a press statement from the nurses union. 

According to the statement, “Nurses are asking hospital executives to invest their rising profits in patient care improvements; provider retention and recruitment; and safe, accessible, affordable health care for their communities.” 

An OHSU spokesperson issued a comment on the picket, saying “OHSU deeply values its nursing staff, and appreciates the time and effort that have gone into this bargaining cycle. We are dedicated to bargaining toward our shared goals of a safe, healthy and respectful working environment. As the process proceeds, the OHSU bargaining team looks forward to continuing thoughtful, productive negotiations.”

Columbia Memorial also responded, saying hospital and union “have shared goals of recruitment and retention” and have made progress on scheduling, shared governance, and other issues. 

“Our nurses are a critical part of the caregiving team at CMH,” Nicole Williams, the hospital’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. “We’ve made progress on many of the contract issues and continue to listen to nurses’ concerns. We’re hopeful we can come to an agreement soon to continue providing excellent care to our patients without interruption.”

The union is currently proposing to increase wages by 32% over three years at Columbia Memorial  in addition to annual increases, according to the hospital’s statement. The hospital said it already pays its nurses at one of the highest rates in the state and has proposed a 30% increase over a four-year period. 

The union’s statement cited reporting showing OHSU’s net worth has risen to nearly $4 billion in the last three and a half years and that Columbia Memorial saw its operating margin nearly double in the past five years. 

More specifically, the nurses say they want improved staffing for patients, better nurse retention and to ensure safe working conditions. They’re also advocating for preparations for future pandemics,while “advancing justice, equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives; retirement security; and preventing burnout and moral injury.”

Union representatives have met with OHSU executives more than 18 times to negotiate a new contract, according to the press statement. The contracts at OHSU and at OHSU Hillsboro expire on June 30. The contract at Columbia Memorial Hospital expired on May 31.

You can reach Jake Thomas at [email protected] or via Twitter @jakethomas2009.