PORTLAND, Ore. — Roughly 1,800 nurses at Providence Portland Medical Center and two other Providence facilities will stage a five-day strike starting June 19 unless progress is made in contract bargaining, the Oregon Nurses Association announced Friday.
Providence told KGW on Friday that it will not bargain with the union while the strike is pending or in progress, but will resume bargaining after the strike ends.
The official warning comes just a few days after the nurses at Providence Portland, Providence Seaside and Providence Home Health and Hospice collectively voted to authorize a strike. The union is required to give advance notice so that the health system can prepare for the strike.
ONA said earlier this week that the strike authorization was in response to unfair labor practices and falling standards at Providence facilities, including overuse of temporary nurses, unsafe nurse-to-patient ratios and failure to retain existing staff.
Contract negotiations with Providence have been ongoing since last fall, and the union said it delivered its strike notice to Providence on Thursday after a Wednesday bargaining session with all three units yielded "no significant movement" by Providence.
Nurses focus on pay, staffing levels
"The four priorities established by our nurses are wages to be brought up to the level where we are market competitive; decent healthcare that is comprehensive and reasonably priced; adequate staffing; and reasonable paid time off and sick time," Richard Botterill, chair of the Providence Portland unit bargaining committee, said in a statement Friday morning.
A news release from the union said the Providence Portland and Providence Seaside units are scheduled to hold their next bargaining sessions on June 13 and 14, respectively, but a union representative later told KGW that Providence notified ONA it intends to cancel those sessions.
"I cannot and will not stand by while Providence pushes me and my colleagues to provide rushed, infrequent, and incomplete care in service of their profit margin," said Lori Curtis, a bargaining team member for Providence Home Health and Hospice. "At the height of the pandemic, Providence increased the number of patients many of my colleagues were expected to see in a day by up to 70%. More visits on my schedule means less time to provide care for each patient and family."
A bargaining team member for the Seaside unit singled out parity between clinic nurses and inpatient nurses as a major issue for the union, arguing that Kaiser Permanente, OHSU and Columbia Memorial Hospital in Seaside all use the same pay scale for the two types of nurses, and that Providence is creating retention and recruitment problems by not doing the same.
Response from Providence
When asked for comment Friday, Providence replied with a statement saying it was disappointed by ONA's announcement and that the strike would distract from dialogue at the bargaining table.
"We firmly believe that strikes don’t settle contracts, they delay them and keep our hard-working caregivers from getting the pay, benefits and contract enhancements they deserve. They also strain the health care delivery system in our communities, which can jeopardize vital care for those who rely on us," Providence said.
The hospitals have been preparing for the possibility of a strike and will be able to continue to provide critical services during the strike, Providence said, although some services will be limited or closed due to the lack of staffing.
Providence also said that it would not participate in further bargaining before or during the strike and has asked the union for new bargaining dates after the strike concludes, because managerial staff will need to focus on preparations to maintain services and hospital capacity.
"We have transparently and repeatedly shared our longstanding position with ONA over the course of bargaining: if any of our ministries receive a strike notification during bargaining, the complex demands of a strike mean our bargaining teams, which include the managers of our hospitals and other services, must turn their full energy and attention to stabilizing our operations to continue serving our patients. Caring for our community is our highest priority," Providence said in a statement.
Multiple recent strike threats
Recent contract negotiations in the Oregon health care sector have been tense, with multiple last-second breakthroughs and near-misses on strikes as the industry and its workers struggle with widespread staffing shortages and burnout in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Negotiations came to a head last year at Providence St. Vincent in Portland when the unit of about 1,600 nurses authorized a strike in May and then rejected a tentative contract agreement in June, sending the parties back to the table with the possibility of a strike still looming.
The stakes grew higher that same week when about 400 more nurses from Providence Milwaukie Hospital and Providence Willamette Falls Medical Center approved their own strike authorizations.
A new tentative contract agreement emerged from a June 28 bargaining session with Providence and all three hospitals, and the St. Vincent rank-and-file union members ratified it in mid-July.
Kaiser Permanente had its own showdown with union staff in late 2021, with a strike set to begin Nov. 15 that would have included more than 35,000 Kaiser workers across multiple states, including nearly 3,400 in Oregon and Southwest Washington. The strike was averted at the last minute when the parties reached a tentative contract agreement.