Nurses file unsafe labor charges against Oregon hospital

Nurses at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, Ore., have been raising alarms on short-staffing and work conditions as contract negotiations wear on. Recently, those protests have escalated to a series of formal complaints and labor charges. 

On April 21, local nurses filed two new unfair labor practice charges against the hospital with the National Labor Relations Board. 

"St. Charles executives are charged with bad faith bargaining after refusing to provide relevant information about its multimillion dollar contracts with outside staffing agencies and refusing to drop contract proposals which are not mandatory subjects of bargaining," states a news release from the Oregon Nurses Association, which represents nearly 1,000 of the hospital's front-line nurses. 

The new charges compound previous charges alleging the health system spies on nurses participating in union activity. Those charges are currently being investigated by the NLRB, the union says. 

Additionally, on May 5, nurses filed a series of unsafe staffing complaints against the hospital with the Oregon Health Authority. The allegations claim the hospital fails to meet safe staffing standards and provide sufficient replacement staff; fails to limit hospital admissions when providers can't meet patients' needs; and fails to provide meal and rest breaks to staff. 

The hospital is unaware of new complaints filed with the Oregon Health Authority, but plans to review and respond to any that are raised, Julie Ostrom, BSN, a senior nursing leader and member of the St. Charles bargaining team, told Becker's. Meanwhile, it believes the NLRB charges to be "without merit." 

During an informational picket on April 24, the union alleged that low pay contributes to the hospital's staffing problem. The hospital disagrees. 

In early April, the health system significantly cut its travel staff, delaying patient care in at least one instance. However, it has hired more new nurses than it has lost to turnover in the past nine months, Ms. Ostrom, told Becker's. The system also claims it has decreased nursing turnover to its lowest rate in three years — 14.5 percent in 2022, compared to a national average of 22.5 percent. 

The health system also implemented a $5 hourly wage increase for all bedside nurses for an average annual full-time salary of $108,000. This is one of the highest nursing salaries in the state of Oregon, according to Ms. Ostrom. 

The nurses and hospital have been locked in nearly fives months of contract negotiations; RNs are still working without a contract after the previous one expired Dec. 31. 

"We have identified common ground in these negotiations that is helping us progress to an agreement," Ms. Ostrom said. "We agree with the ONA about the importance of retaining and recruiting health care professionals and are happy to report that despite a national shortage of nurses we have been making significant progress. 

"We are back in negotiations with the ONA this week and will continue to bargain in good faith with the goal of reaching a contract agreement."

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