Nurses authorize strike at three Providence medical facilities in NW Oregon

Editor’s note: The current strike authorization does not directly impact any Providence facilities in Medford, according to a Providence spokesperson.

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — Nurses and other clinicians at three Providence medical facilities have voted to authorize a strike, the Oregon Nurses Association announced Monday morning. The authorization covers about 1,800 medical staff across the three locations.

ONA said that votes at Providence Portland, Providence Seaside and Providence Home Health and Hospice were “near unanimous” for authorizing a strike. Voting closed at 5 p.m. on Sunday.

The union must give Providence a 10-day notice before calling a strike in order to give the health system time to make necessary arrangements.

“Enough is enough. The fact that an overwhelming number of nurses and clinicians voted yes shows that we know our worth. We’re tired of the lip service from Providence,” said Richard Botterill, RN and bargaining unit chair for Providence Portland. “We’ve told them for years that we need a wage and benefit package that recruits and retains experienced staff. Our nurses and clinicians have shown that we are prepared to act if they cannot work with us to achieve the contracts we deserve.”

According to ONA, the strike authorization is in response to unfair labor practices and eroding standards at the Providence facilities, including unsafe increases in patient assignments, overuse of temporary nurses and a failure to retain experienced medical caregivers.

RELATED: Nurses at Legacy Mount Hood vote to unionize

“Above all, home health and hospice clinicians are fighting for working conditions that allow us to provide safe patient care,” said Sharon Barbosa, RN and bargaining unit chair for Providence Home Health and Hospice. “Providence increased our caseloads up to 70% in the middle of a global pandemic. Under these conditions, necessary care is delayed, patients suffer, and clinicians continue to flee Providence. Those of us who are left have no choice but to take this stand to protect our patients.”

ONA said that contract negotiations with Providence have been ongoing since last fall. The union characterized its priorities as revolving around stable staffing and retention — prioritizing permanent nurses over more costly temporary nurses.

Providence, ONA said, is behind other area health systems in total paid leave and lacks dedicated sick leave.

“Seaside patients deserve more than unsafe staffing levels and poorly functioning equipment. We need Providence to invest in us,” said Nate Weiler, RN and bargaining unit chair for Providence Seaside. “We are a critical access hospital, and the next closest hospital is a 40-minute drive, which means Seaside residents come here for their care. The cost to live here has grown exponentially and it’s past time we have pay equity with Portland nurses, especially if we want to retain and recruit nurses to care for our community.”

In a statement responding to the strike authorization, Providence said that it has been negotiating in good faith for new contracts with ONA.

“We are disappointed by today’s strike authorization announcement by ONA,” Providence said. “Strikes don’t solve contracts, they delay them, and they put the continuation of critical health care services for our communities at risk.

“The reality is that at each bargaining table, Providence Portland, Providence Seaside and Providence Home Health and Providence Hospice have offered strong, market-competitive proposals designed to help recruit and retain skilled caregivers and address the needs of our nurses – and their families.”

The health system said that the latest offer at Providence Portland is for “significant, double-digit percentage wage increases” within the first year, plus immediate pay bumps and bonuses for nurses. The offer also includes a paid time off program that offers eight weeks in short-term disability benefits, Providence said.

“Combined with other contract enhancements and the strong existing benefits they currently receive, these proposals will continue to keep our nurses among the best-compensated in their communities,” the statement continued. “As we’ve said before, we believe that talking solves more than walking. The Providence bargaining teams are eager to continue dialogue with ONA as they work tirelessly toward new contracts for their caregivers.”

Negotiations at all three medical facilities continue this week, ONA said.

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