PORTLAND, Ore. — An "overwhelming" majority of nurses at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland have voted to authorize a strike, the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) reported Wednesday evening — protesting alleged unfair labor practices and demanding a new contract.
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.
“Our patients come first. Nurses overwhelmingly voted to strike to defend our rights to speak up to keep our patients and coworkers safe," said John Smeltzer, RN, ONA's executive committee president at St. Vincent. "Nurses’ top priority is improving patient safety by addressing Providence’s staffing crisis and raising standards to recruit and retain caregivers.
“Providence is hemorrhaging nurses and staff. We can't wait and hope it gets better. We have to take action. For two years, frontline nurses have sacrificed our own health and safety for our patients and for Providence during COVID-19. Now, we’re asking Providence to protect patients and nurses with basic care improvements, safe nurse staffing, better working conditions and a fair contract.”
The 1,600 frontline nurses at St. Vincent are members of ONA, which represents more than 4,000 nurses across 10 Providence facilities in Oregon.
In response to the news of a strike, Providence St. Vincent spokesman Gary Walker said in a statement that the hospital has tried to negotiate constructively with ONA to deliver comprehensive pay and benefits:
"Throughout this long process, ONA has at times delayed on agreeing to additional dates for discussions and to this point has rejected Providence St. Vincent's offer to engage a neutral federal mediator to help build consensus to accelerate negotiations.
"Tonight’s strike authorization announcement is just the latest attempt to delay meaningful discussion, a move that only serves to prevent our valued nurses from receiving the substantial pay raises and expanded benefits they deserve.
"When it comes to negotiations, Providence St. Vincent believes that talking solves more than walking. We are eager to continue the dialogue with ONA as we work tirelessly toward finding a mutually agreeable resolution."
Nurses at St. Vincent began the strike vote April 19, closing the vote on Tuesday. After a majority approved the strike, ONA's Labor Cabinet met and authorized the strike on Wednesday.
ONA said it will give Providence a 10-day notice before the strike begins, as required by Oregon's Employment Relations Board.