PORTLAND, Ore. — Nurses at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center have voted to reject a tentative agreement that the union's bargaining team reached with the health care organization earlier this month.
The Oregon Nurses Association (ONA), which represents about 1,600 nurses at St. Vincent, held a news conference Thursday afternoon to announce the outcome. They did not share the exact vote totals, but said the vote was more than four-to-one to reject the contract.
"Put simply, hundreds of experienced frontline ONA nurses looked at Providence's offer and said it's not good enough," said Jessica Lobell, vice-president of the ONA nurse bargaining team at Providence St. Vincent.
The previous contract expired in January, and the union has been in bargaining with Providence St. Vincent for about eight months. The union's primary demands include higher pay and improved staffing levels.
Lobell said the tentative agreement would have improved patient care, but did not do enough to address staffing concerns or rising health care costs.
Providence St. Vincent chief executive Jennifer Burrows said she was "saddened" by the vote outcome in a statement released Thursday afternoon.
"This means ONA and Providence St. Vincent leadership now look forward to returning to the bargaining table," she said. "Using the federal mediator who helped us come up with the current proposed contract, we hope to quickly work through our differences to draft a contract the represented nurses of Providence St. Vincent will approve."
Last month, the St. Vincent nurses passed a strike authorization vote, which doesn't directly trigger a strike but gives the union's bargaining team a green light to call for one.
ONA officials at Thursday's press conference did not commit to holding a strike or announce a start date, saying that it would still be up to the bargaining team, but the vote to reject the contract does appear to make a strike more likely.
In a Wednesday press release before the results were announced, ONA officials said a vote to ratify the agreement would "avert a strike at St. Vincent," while a vote to reject it would mean the bargaining team "may return to negotiations or more towards a strike."
If a strike is called, the union is required to provide Providence with a 10-day notice to give management time to prepare. A strike can still be called off if a new contract agreement is reached during the 10-day period.
This is the first time in the history of Providence's relationship with the ONA that members have rejected a tentative agreement, according to union officials at the press conference. Providence has also never faced a strike in Oregon, according to the ONA news release.
Nurses at Providence Willamette Falls and Providence Milwaukie held their own strike authorization votes earlier this month, both of which passed. A nurse from Providence Milwaukie spoke at Thursday's press conference to pledge support for the St. Vincent nurses' decision to reject the contract.
However, the three locations are negotiating separate contracts, and the vote to reject the St. Vincent contract does not impact the bargaining process or the likelihood of a strike at either of the other two, according to the ONA news release.
ONA represents about 15,000 nurses statewide, including a combined total of about 2,000 across the Providence St. Vincent, Milwaukie and Willamette Falls locations.