Nurses accuse PeaceHealth of strike retaliation

The Oregon Nurses Association has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that PeaceHealth executives threatened to terminate health insurance for home care nurses and their families after the union filed a strike notice.

The health system, however, contends it was trying to prevent striking nurses from losing their benefits due to the timing of the strike.

Nurses at Springfield, Ore.-based PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Home Care Services notified Vancouver, Wash.-based PeaceHealth of their intent to strike Jan. 19, with the strike to begin Feb. 1 and last two weeks.

After receiving the notice, PeaceHealth executives told workers that the health system planned to terminate striking nurses' health insurance along with any covered family members, the ONA alleges. The union contends the move was retaliation for engaging in protected activities and violated federal labor law. 

The National Labor Relations Act prevents employers from "threaten[ing] employees with adverse consequences, such as closing the workplace, loss of benefits, or more onerous working conditions, if they support a union, engage in union activity, or select a union to represent them."

"This is a direct attack on local healthcare professionals and their families," ONA President Tamie Cline, RN, said in a news release. "Shame on the executives running PeaceHealth for putting profits before patients and the nurses who care for them. 

"Why would anyone in this community trust PeaceHealth to provide healthcare for them when PeaceHealth refuses to provide healthcare for its own workers?"

PeaceHealth shared a statement with Becker's, saying that after notifying the union that their initial strike date of Feb. 1 would cause a lapse in benefits for their members, the ONA pulled their initial notice and filed a new notice of a strike to begin Feb. 10.

PeaceHealth said it notified the union of their error to prevent workers from unnecessarily losing their health benefits due to the timing of the strike. The health system's employment policy states that benefits expire on the last day of the month in which the individual works. For example, if an employee's last day of work is Jan. 31, their benefits expire at the end of January. If an employee's last day of work is Feb. 1, their benefits expire at the end of February.

The union has also accused Peace Health of refusing to meet with nurses after a Jan. 23 negotiation session was canceled, but the health system said it is prioritizing preparing for the strike. "Once PeaceHealth received the strike notice from ONA, we immediately postponed our upcoming bargaining sessions to focus our full attention on ensuring the continued delivery of safe, high-quality patient care during the union's strike," PeaceHealth said. "We look forward to resuming negotiations at a later date, but right now our focus must be on our patients and providing uninterrupted care."

The strike is currently set to begin at 7 a.m. Feb. 10 and end at 7 a.m. Feb. 24 outside PeaceHealth's Sacred Heart Home Care Services Springfield, Ore., office.

PeaceHealth said it has contracted with an agency to provide temporary replacement workers during the strike.

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