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Possible strike looms as OHSU, nurses union negotiations hit impasse

Both sides say they want to avoid a strike. The union recently touted big concessions following a strike against a different health system.
The Oregon Nurses Association is encouraging its more than 3,000 members working at OHSU to attend “strike schools.” | SHUTTERSTOCK
August 17, 2023

Oregon’s largest nurses union is preparing for a possible strike after deadlocking on contract negotiations with Oregon Health & Science University.

The Oregon Nurses Association is encouraging its more than 3,000 members working at the state’s largest hospital to attend “strike schools” after negotiations stalled. OHSU announced last week that the nurses union had declared an impasse after each side’s bargaining team regularly met since December 2022 to negotiate a new contract. 

The declaration of an impasse means that both sides were required to submit their final contract offer by Aug. 16. They’re now in a 30-day “cooling-off” period to allow for more negotiations in hopes of reaching an agreement.

The two sides struck different tones in the wake of the impasse.

“With great disappointment, we announce that due to reaching impasse, we must consider the real possibility of going on strike,” reads an Aug. 12 update from the union to the nurses it represents at OHSU. 

OHSU’s statement, meanwhile, noted that a work stoppage can delay care for patients and strain employees on both sides of the picket line.  

“The OHSU team will continue working in good faith toward a contract that supports OHSU nurses and the long-term sustainability of the organization,” reads the statement. “The OHSU bargaining team thanks the ONA team for their collaboration thus far in helping reach tentative agreements on many issues, and looks forward to working with ONA in the next phase of the bargaining process.” 

The impasse was declared just as the increasingly assertive nurses union declared victory after a five-day strike led to what it called a significantly improved contract at the Portland and Seaside hospitals operated by Providence Health & Services. 

The strike against Providence was the first of its kind in 20 years and meant that nurses had to forgo pay while away from their jobs. 

The union announced last week that management at Providence Portland offered nurses “the best contract we’ve achieved in several decades” that included a “historic wage increase,” along with other concessions. Union negotiators at Providence Seaside also announced that the hospital made an offer that “is considerably richer than what was offered before the strike.”  

The nurses union has not announced a vote authorizing a strike against OHSU. The update described a strike as “one of the biggest collective actions that workers can take, and it requires physical presence, trust and solidarity with your fellow workers.”

The union argued in the update that the hospital’s top nine executives earned over $7.3 million last year while wages for its members effectively dropped by 4%. The union held an informational picket in late June to pressure the hospital to put more of its revenue into increased pay for nurses. 

The next step is for both sides to meet with a mediator, which could happen as soon as next week, according to the union’s update.

OHSU and the nurses union did not immediately respond to requests for comment.  

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