PORTLAND, Ore. — Hundreds of nurses at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center will vote to decide whether to strike over unfair labor practices, the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) announced Monday. The strike vote will run from April 19 to May 3.
The nurse's union has accused Providence of engaging in "illegal attempts to discriminate, threaten and retaliate against nurses who engage in protected union activity and exercise their rights to speak up for patient and caregiver safety."
During past negotiations, the union said that Providence refused to provide important safety information about emergency department staffing and that the health care system's emergency departments have been "consistently understaffed during the pandemic."
“Nurses are affirming our rights to speak up and advocate for our patients and coworkers to make sure work is safe for nurses and patients," said John Smeltzer, ONA's executive committee president at Providence St. Vincent. "Instead of interfering with nurses’ rights, Providence should be working with us to raise staffing standards, improve patient care, make health care more affordable and retain the frontline nurses and health professionals our community counts on. Our patients and staff deserve better.”
The union said nurses are also advocating for basic patient and nurse safety improvements as part of contract negotiations at multiple Providence facilities.
ONA's proposals to reach a contract agreement include:
- Stronger patient safety standards to reduce future COVID-19 outbreaks and ensure the highest standards of care for all Oregonians.
- Safe nurse staffing to ensure high-quality care and patient access.
- Affordable health care and paid leave so front-line nurses can seek care after COVID-19 exposures and afford health care for their own families.
- A fair compensation package that allows hospitals to recruit and retain skilled front-line caregivers.
In an email Monday night, Providence Oregon spokesperson Gary Walker issued a response to ONA's strike vote announcement.
He said the health care system has been in negotiations with union leaders at Providence St. Vincent since October 2021. After recently wrapping up their 15th session, he said he believes they have made "significant progress" toward reaching a deal.
"We believe our represented nurses really want to come to an agreement as quickly as possible. Providence believes we need to do all we can to facilitate getting more dates on the calendar for the conversations that will get us to a deal," Walker wrote.
He said Providence has been asking for more dates from ONA to reach a deal, and has offered a 9.5% pay increase for nurses, but that the union has not been able to get additional sessions on the calendar.
"To help the parties bridge the remaining gap, we’ve suggested adding a federal mediator to join negotiations," he wrote. "The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) is a neutral federal agency that helps negotiating parties resolve differences and provides structure for constructive negotiations."
He said FMCS is highly skilled and effective at helping parties find common ground, but that up to now ONA has declined to involve a neutral federal mediator.
He concluded the email by saying, "Strikes don’t settle contracts; getting together and discussing the issues face-to-face does."