PeaceHealth: Striking hospital workers could lose health insurance

Members of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, AFT Local 5017, could lose their employer-paid health insurance subsidy if their planned strike occurs and carries into November, hospital administrators warned Oct. 17. 

The union represents about 1,300 service and maintenance and tech healthcare workers at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver, Wash., and the lab professionals at PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center in Longview, Wash., according to a news release from OFNHP. Both medical centers are part of Vancouver-based PeaceHealth, a nonprofit health system with medical centers, critical access hospitals and medical clinics in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. 

Union members are set to begin a strike Oct. 23 at PeaceHealth Southwest and PeaceHealth St. John. The planned strike is open ended and follows months of negotiations.

PeaceHealth called the timing of the strike "unfortunate," since the health system's employer-paid subsidy for striking caregivers would cease Nov. 1 if the strike is still taking place. This would affect those who would no longer be eligible because they would no longer be working in the hospital. 

Although the subsidy would cease, those caregivers would be eligible for continued coverage through COBRA, PeaceHealth said in a statement shared with Becker's

"This is our standard practice that applies to any caregiver (union represented or not) who chooses not to work, including those who leave the hospital to transition to another job," the statement read. 

The union condemned the practice, with Jonathon Baker, OFNHP president, calling it "cruel, punitive and egregious." 

"This is putting these front-line healthcare workers at severe risk of health complications, which is a particularly brutal thing to do amidst a healthcare crisis, especially since many of these health professionals literally put themselves on the line saving lives during the COVID-19 pandemic," Mr. Baker said in a news release. 

The union added that workers would be left in a vulnerable state, particularly those with chronic health conditions, disabilities or dependents, if they lose their health insurance.

The strike is slated to begin at 6:30 a.m. local time Oct. 23 unless an agreement is reached.

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