Providence to attorney general: 'Strikebreaker' law is unconstitutional

Providence is asking Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to deny a request from the Oregon Nurses Association to investigate Providence for alleged unlawful use of professional strikebreakers. 

The union called for an investigation following a five-day strike by nurses and clinicians at Providence Portland Medical Center, Providence Seaside Hospital, and Providence Home Health and Hospice, all in Oregon. The union represents about 1,800 nurses and clinicians at the three organizations. Union members returned to work June 24.

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

A spokesperson for the attorney general's office told Becker's that the office "will be reviewing the Providence lawyer's letter, as well as the earlier request from the ONA."

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."

Providence is calling on the attorney general to deny a request from the ONA to begin an investigation, citing legal precedents dating to the 1930s.

In a letter to the attorney general, which was shared with Becker's, Providence specifically references an Oregon law (ORS 662.215) cited by the union related to hiring "professional strikebreakers" to replace striking workers. 

The letter goes on to note numerous federal and state court cases, which Providence says have held state laws and local ordinances that seek to limit employers or unions in the course of negotiations are preempted by federal law.

"The clear weight of  legal precedent establishes that 'strikebreaker' laws such as this one are preempted by the National Labor Relations Act and are thus unconstitutional when applied to private-sector employers like the Providence ministries that are subject to the jurisdiction of the act," the letter reads, in part. 

The letter to the attorney general goes on to say that, "In the interest of public safety, it is imperative that Providence's ministries be able to continue caring for patients in the event of a strike. For those reasons, Providence respectfully requests that your office promptly deny ONA's request for further investigation."

The ONA shared a statement with Becker's on June 27, which reads, in part, "We believe that the citizens of Oregon have voiced a strong opposition, rooted in our sense of community responsibility, that the use of professional strikebreakers to break a union is wrong. We also believe that is why Providence and other employers have not challenged this law for the past five decades, unlike employers in other states.  

"Where a statute reflects a state's interest in an issue that is 'deeply rooted in local feeling and responsibility' — such as this law here in Oregon — the law must stand."

The union also acknowledges there were statutes preventing the use of replacement staff in other states. 

But "those statutes did not have such a clear public interest," the union contends. "To be clear, ONA is not claiming that Providence is forbidden from using replacement workers during a strike like many of those other statutes prohibited. Oregon's law is different; it only applies to professional strikebreakers with a clear definition of who is and is not included in that definition."

Additionally, the ONA contends that Providence over the years could have asked the courts to declare the law unenforceable if the organization thought it so.  


Copyright © 2024 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars