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Threatened PeaceHealth strike could strip workers’ health coverage

Management warns southwest Washington workers their health insurance will be terminated if a strike lasts more than a week
Workers rallied a year ago, on Oct. 10, 2022, at Peacehealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver, Washington, to protest working conditions. | COURTESY PHOTO
October 17, 2023

Over 1,300 respiratory therapists, radiology techs, maintenance workers and other health care workers at PeaceHealth’s southwest Washington hospitals could lose their medical insurance if their strike, planned to launch next week, carries into November. 

Citing wages and staffing, the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals on Friday gave the hospital system its 10-day notice of a threatened Oct. 23 work stoppage that will include technical and service workers at two of its hospitals: Vancouver-based PeaceHealth Southwest and lab professionals at PeaceHealth St. John in Longview. 

Some recent health care strikes in Oregon — involving Kaiser Permanente and Providence Health and Services — were planned to last five days or less. At Peacehealth, the threatened strike is open-ended.

The planned strike follows months of contract negotiations between the union and PeaceHealth over wages and staffing levels. It also comes at a time when PeaceHealth has been reporting chronic financial losses. In the past year, PeaceHealth has engaged in major layoffs and announced plans to close its University District hospital in Eugene.

While contentious negotiations have marked other recent struggles between hospitals and unions, union spokesperson Shane Burley told The Lund Report that cutting off the striking workers’ health insurance would be a rare move. 

“This is super unusual for health care providers to do this with health care workers,” he said. The situation is particularly worrying for a “number of disabled” workers preparing to go on strike, he said.  

Cassie Cook, a CT tech at PeaceHealth Southwest, said in a statement from the union that she receives monthly injections to treat her cancer that’ll cost $3,000 a month if her insurance is canceled. 

“I simply don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said. “I am not sure how I am going to survive.”

The union’s statement faulted PeaceHealth management for refusing to bargain and paying workers from staffing agencies $8,000 a week or more, which it said is significantly more than what staff are asking for in negotiations. 

PeaceHealth spokesperson Debra Carnes told The Lund Report in an email that the hospital system’s employer-paid health insurance subsidy would halt on Nov. 1 for striking workers. She said those workers would be eligible for COBRA, a federal program that allows workers to keep their employer-based health insurance after leaving a job, but usually requires them to pay high premiums. 

“It is unfortunate the union’s timing of their strike notice will potentially have the strike carryover into the next month. Most unions call for strikes at the beginning of the month to avoid this costly health insurance situation for their members,” she said

 She added, “This is our standard practice that applies to any caregiver (union-represented or not) who chooses not to work, including those who leave the hospital to transition to another job.”

Friday’s announcement of the strike came the same day Kaiser Permanente and a multi-state coalition of unions announced they had reached a tentative agreement following a three-day strike. 

While the planned PeaceHealth strike is open-ended, Burley said it hopefully would “be speedy and would resolve with a contract.” 

Another 350 technical workers affiliated with the union at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart in Eugene are negotiating a contract. Those workers could decide to join striking workers in southwest Washington, according to a union statement. 

PeaceHealth workers in southwest Washington voted 95% in favor of approving the strike. A press statement announcing the strike cites low wages, short staffing and stalled negotiations, while accusing management of “bad faith bargaining.”

Previously, PeaceHealth issued a statement indicating management was “disappointed the union has chosen this path to a potential strike” and was hopeful an agreement could be reached. 

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


Submitted by Randy Knop on Tue, 10/17/2023 - 12:31 Permalink

When the media becomes a mouth piece for an employers threats... We should all be as concerned for ourselves that what it being said and why!
The most obvious and glaring statement "PeaceHealth’s southwest Washington hospitals could lose their medical insurance if their strike, planned to launch next week, carries into November"
Is blatantly false considering both state and federal regulations protecting workers' rights regarding continued health care insurance coverage. 

Submitted by Susan R. Burton on Wed, 10/18/2023 - 08:25 Permalink

This is why we need single payer healthcare.  An employer should not have control over it’s employees healthcare and be able to blackmail them in this way.  If Peacehealth was having financial difficulties why did their President/CEO receive a 68 percent salary increase.  Why are the big bonues and salary increases for top management never reported in these articles?