St. Charles physicians, other healthcare workers want to unionize

St. Charles Medical Group physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other healthcare workers have filed for union representation.

The approximately 300 workers are represented by the Central Oregon Providers Network and seek to hold an election to decide whether to join the American Federation of Teachers, according to a June 3 news release shared with Becker's.

The American Federation of Teachers is a national union with 1.7 million members, including 200,000 healthcare workers.

St. Charles Medical Group is the employed provider arm of Bend, Ore.-based St. Charles Health System. The St. Charles Medical Group workers seeking a union election work at St. Charles hospitals and other healthcare facilities in six cities in central Oregon — Bend, La Pine, Madras, Prineville, Redmond and Sisters. They are physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, social workers, perfusionists, registered nurses, counselors, therapists and certified nurse midwives.

In the release, the workers describe a "financial crisis" at St. Charles Health System, which they say is being addressed by management in ways that are detrimental to the quality of patient care and are being made without their collaboration or input. 

"With a union, St. Charles will no longer be able to ignore our input affecting patient care. We need to be at the table and work with the administration to ensure patients are the top priority. Through collaboration, we can improve patient care and ensure responsible decision-making," Josh Plank, MD, a hospitalist, said in the release.

The union announcement comes after St. Charles Health System announced in May that the organization would cut 181 positions amid financial struggles. The reduction includes laying off 105 caregivers and eliminating 76 vacant positions.

Regarding the St. Charles Medical Group providers' announcement about plans to unionize, St. Charles Health System emphasized its continued commitment to prioritize patient care.

"We greatly value our employed providers and respect their right to take this step, although we'd far prefer to work directly with them in partnership while navigating these unprecedented times," Jeff Absalon, MD, chief physician executive for the health system, said in a statement shared with Becker's. "We know many healthcare workers are frustrated and exhausted after the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our focus as individuals and a health system needs to be on healing and recovering from the pandemic and stabilizing our finances so that we can preserve and strengthen the vital healthcare services that we provide to our community."

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