Hundreds of Oregon hospital workers begin strike

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More than 400 front-line healthcare workers at McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center in Springfield, Ore., began a two-day strike Oct. 5 alleging unfair labor practices, according to the union that represents them.

Service Employees International Union Local 49, which represents the workers, alleges management is interfering with workers' rights as union members as they seek a new contract that includes safe staffing, fair wages and COVID-19 protections, and keeps good jobs at the hospital.

The union said workers also contend understaffing, high turnover, low wages, lack of affordable healthcare and lack of adequate COVID-19 protections may be jeopardizing worker and patient safety.

Additionally, workers take issue with hospital management's plans to outsource nearly 100 workers in the dietary, housekeeping and linen departments to HHS, a Dripping Springs, Texas-based staffing company.

"As healthcare workers, we care deeply about our patients and providing the best care, and I'm so angry that management is treating us unfairly," Gypsy Smith, a housekeeper at the hospital, said in a news release. "Going on strike is the most difficult decision many of us have had to make, especially with COVID. But ultimately we're doing this to protect our patients and make sure we have the resources we need to do our jobs safely."

McKenzie-Willamette, in a statement shared with Becker's Oct. 5, emphasized its committment to bargaining in good faith on the overall union contract which expired Aug. 31 and issues related to the outsourcing of dietary and environmental services. 

Regarding outsourcing, the hospital "is open to reviewing proposals from the union related to outsourcing, but to date the only alternative offered has been not to outsource," said Jana Waterman, vice president of business development and marketing at McKenzie-Willamette. 

She added that outsourcing "represents an investment in our patients and employees" and that all 56 current housekeeping and dietary employees will be offered employment. She said HHS in Texas will also help to recruit additional staff to further boost patient experience.

As far as supplies and staffing, Ms. Waterman said the hospital continues to have sufficient supplies and personal protective equipment for workers, and its staffing ratios "are in line with patient volumes and fluctuate accordingly."

During the strike, the hospital will limit some services, including the rescheduling of elective surgeries. Ms. Waterman said this will not affect care for patients already in the hospital.

The emergency room will be available to accept walk-in patients; however, the hospital will beon EMS diversion, which will be reassessed hourly, said Ms. Waterman. 

McKenzie-Willamette is owned by Brentwood, Tenn.-based Quorum Health Corp. SEIU Local 49 represents more than 15,000 healthcare and building service workers, including licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants, professional and technical workers, pharmacists, dietary aides and housekeepers in Oregon and Southwest Washington. 

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