Providence Willamette Falls Nurses Approve Labor Deal 

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Nurses at Providence Willamette Falls Medical Center voted to accept a tentative labor agreement, ending the threat of a strike at the Oregon City hospital, union officials said Monday.

The nurses there voted “nearly unanimously” in favor of the contract, said Kevin Mealy, a spokesman for the Oregon Nurses Association, which represents the hospital’s 233 nurses. 

The hospital is the first of three Providence-affiliated hospitals where nurses approved a new contract after voting earlier this year to authorize a strike if labor negotiations failed. The other two hospitals are Providence St. Vincent’s in Portland, a 1,600-nurse facility,  and Providence Milwaukie, which has 239 nurses. Nurses at both hospitals have separate votes coming up on tentative agreements. At each hospital, nurses vote on contracts separately, meaning nurses at either or both of the remaining hospitals could still go on strike if they reject their agreements. 

Usually, contracts are negotiated separately. In this case, Providence and the nurses union’s bargaining teams from all three hospitals made headway after they met for a marathon joint bargaining session that lasted nearly 24 hours. Mealy said the joint bargaining process moved the process along because nurses had a collective voice.

“It raises standards for patients as well as nurses,” Mealy said in an interview with The Lund Report. “It gave us the ability to push for the types of safety measures and recruitment and retention issues that will move the needle for patients.”

Provisions of the contract include:

  • Oregon’s safe nursing law, which requires nurse staffing plans at each hospital, will become part of the contract’s language. This means that nurses could file a grievance for violations in addition to filing a complaint with the Oregon Health Authority.
  • An 8% pay increase the first year, with retroactive pay increases that go back to Jan. 3. 
  • Health insurance plans for nurses have a cost reduction of $1,500 annually for coverage, with a promise that costs won’t increase more than than 8% for the duration of the contract.

The vote marks the first success for negotiations after an earlier setback. 

Nurses at Providence St. Vincent’s rejected an earlier tentative agreement in June, forcing bargaining teams back at the table and stoking fears they would go on strike. Nurses at the hospital are scheduled to vote on a tentative agreement from Wednesday to Friday. 

The contract there and at Providence Willamette Falls had expired at the end of 2021.

Providence Milwaukie also has a tentative agreement and its vote date is not yet scheduled. That hospital’s contract expired May 1. 

In a statement, Providence Health & Services welcomed the vote and thanked both bargaining teams for reaching a “fair and equitable agreement.”

“We look forward to continuing to work together with ONA and our nurses as we support the practice of nursing and providing high-quality, compassionate care for the patients and communities we serve,” the health system’s statement said.

Pendleton Hospital Workers Seek To Unionize

Elsewhere workers at other clinics and hospitals in Oregon are pushing to unionize, including CHI St. Anthony Hospital.

Forty health care technical workers at the Pendleton hospital have filed for union recognition with the National Labor Relations Board. The group includes imaging technicians, respiratory therapists, pharmacy technicians, lab technicians and sleep lab technicians. 

They are seeking representation through the Oregon Nurses Association, which already represents the hospital’s nurses. The group said issues include safe staffing, high-quality care and equitable wages.

For example, respiratory therapists said they are working on a skeleton crew and forced to work irregular and extra hours, with routine denials of time off.

“We want respect, we want safer staffing, and we want to have a voice on issues the impact our patients, our communities and our careers,” said Derek Skufca, a respiratory therapist at St. Anthony’s, in a statement. “All of us know that joining a union will empower us to achieve those goals.”

In the current situation, when the hospital lacks staffing, it needs to divert patients to other hospitals for treatment, Skufca said. This can lead to other factors, such as transportation costs, the risk for patients and more difficulty for family members who want to see them, he said.

Robert Maranville, another respiratory therapist, said in an interview that while wages is one factor, the current working conditions negatively impact family life when staff cannot go on vacations or work irregular hours and extra shifts.

In an email to The Lund Report, hospital CEO Harold Geller said: “Our preference is to maintain a direct relationship with our staff.  We encourage all of our employees to get the facts and make the decision they deem to be in their own best interests.”

Geller said the hospital is “committed to providing all employees with a quality work environment with competitive wages and benefits. We regularly review and update compensation to meet the market conditions and recently made several adjustments to be more in line with what we are seeing in the industry.”

As for the employee concerns about staffing levels, Geller said: “Patient safety is our highest priority and staffing plans at St. Anthony are designed to ensure excellent care. Our hospital meets all applicable federal, state, and accreditation guidelines and regularly receives recognition for the quality of care we deliver.”

The National Labor Relations Board will meet July 22 to review the request.

You can reach Ben Botkin at [email protected] or via Twitter @BenBotkin1.

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