Providence strike ends, union alleges illegal use of 'professional strikebreakers'

Nurses and clinicians who began a five-day strike June 19 at Providence Portland Medical Center, Providence Seaside Hospital, and Providence Home Health and Hospice, all in Oregon, have returned to work.

The strike involved members of the Oregon Nurses Association, a union that represents about 1,800 nurses and clinicians at the three organizations. 

Union members returned to work on June 24, according to Jennifer Gentry, RN, chief nursing officer of the Providence Central Division.

"I spent the morning at Providence Portland Medical Center while our nurses were returning to work, and I'm pleased to report that Providence nurses have returned to the bedside at Providence Portland Medical Center, Providence Seaside, Providence Home Health and Providence Hospice," Ms. Gentry said, according to prepared remarks shared with Becker's.

"As expected, Providence nurses and our replacement nurses acted with professionalism and a focus on patient care."

Ms. Gentry's remarks came a day after the Oregon Nurses Association called upon Oregon's attorney general to investigate Providence for alleged unlawful use of professional strikebreakers. 

According to a union news release, the ONA submitted the following to the attorney general: Providence in Oregon "recently publicly admitted that it hired over 475 nurse strikebreakers as replacement workers during the recent five-day strike at three ONA-represented bargaining units. It appears that it recruited these individuals primarily through [the] U.S. Nursing Corp. Therefore, it appears that Providence has used professional strikebreakers at Providence Portland Medical Center, Providence Seaside Hospital and Providence Home Health and Hospice from June 19 through 23, 2023. As you know, Oregon law makes it a criminal violation for an employer to knowingly utilize professional strikebreakers to replace employees involved in a strike or lockout."

The union specifically references Oregon Revised Statute 662.215, which states, "No employer shall knowingly utilize any professional strikebreaker to replace an employee involved in a strike or lockout, for the duration of that strike or lockout." The ONA's letter also references ORS 662.225, which states, "No professional strikebreaker shall knowingly become employed or offer to become employed for the purpose of replacing an employee involved in a strike or lockout, for the duration of that strike or lockout."

The union is asking the attorney general to investigate Providence and refer individuals hired by Providence through U.S. Nursing Corp. for prosecution and consider barring U.S. Nursing Corp. from operating in Oregon in the future.

In response to the union's accusations, Ms. Gentry shared the following statement: "I find it incredibly disappointing to hear that ONA expects Providence to close their doors to patients while caregivers strike. The negative impact to the health and well-being to the people of Oregon would be tremendous. 

"As a nurse, I struggle to understand how such an idea can even be considered.

"It is standard practice across the U.S. to bring in a replacement workforce while our caregivers are on strike, to continue caring for patients."

She also shared that during the strike, Providence cared for more than 250 patients a day in Providence Portland and Providence Seaside hospitals combined, as well as 150 patients a day in the two hospitals' emergency departments. She said home health made 2,000 visits to patients during the five days, and hospice made 750 patient visits during that period.

"At the very moment that the Oregon Nurses Association was holding their press conference [June 23] and appearing to suggest that Providence close its doors during the time of a strike, multiple surgeons at Providence Portland and other teammates were coming together to begin an operation — a life-saving operation for a patient who presented to us with an immediately life-threatening medical condition. This procedure was a success, and we're gratified at Providence Portland to be one of just a few hospitals in the state able to provide this type of specialty care," added Scott Marsal, MD, chief medical officer of Providence Portland Medical Center.

"We at Providence are determined to continue to care for our community, this is but one example of why we will not and cannot close our hospitals during a strike," Dr. Marsal's statement continued.

The union said its members will continue to fight for safe staffing, paid time off, pay parity, access to mental healthcare services, and competitive compensation packages.

"We can't do our jobs under [current] conditions," Richard Botterill, an emergency department nurse at Providence Portland Medical Center, said in a news release. "And Providence knows it. We went on strike to save lives, and our strike has been an unequivocal success."

Nurses and clinicians began contract negotiations with management in fall 2022.

With the strike ending, union members said they will invite Providence back to the bargaining table soon to continue negotiations. Members of Providence Home Health and Hospice return to negotiations on June 27.

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