Strike set to begin at Oregon hospital

Members of the Oregon Nurses Association are set to begin a strike June 12 at St. Charles Bend.

The union represents nearly 1,000 nurses at the hospital, according to a news release from the ONA, which was shared with Becker's. St. Charles Bend is part of St. Charles Health System, a four-hospital organization with more than 4,300 caregivers.

Union members voted to authorize a strike in May and issued a 10-day strike notice on June 1. The union and hospital began negotiating a new labor contract in December. During negotiations, hospital administrators have pointed to decreasing turnover among nursing staff in recent months and a recent pay boost of $5 an hour, according to information shared at a press conference the hospital held June 2. Hospital officials also noted the average RN at the facility earns a base salary of $108,000 per year.

The union contends that management has not responded to nurses' concerns with serious proposals.

"We asked St. Charles to put safe staffing standards to protect patients and support quality care into our contract. They said no," Heather Bristol, RN, said in a separate union news release. 

She added: "We asked St. Charles to help the nurses who provide healthcare get more affordable health insurance. They said no. We asked St. Charles to give us assurances that, if St. Charles sells the hospital to some other health system, we could keep our jobs. They said no. We asked for reasonable, competitive pay — pay that will enable nurses to afford to live in this community while caring for the members of this community, and a salary that will help recruit nurses to the hospital. They said no." 

Union members also contend St. Charles Bend has lost nearly 550 nurses due to unsafe working conditions and non-competitive pay rates over the past few years. They said they seek a contract that will recruit new nurses to the hospital, retain the highly skilled and valuable nurses who work at the hospital, and ensure high-quality care for patients. 

Two days of negotiations are scheduled for June 6 and 7 with a federal mediator.

The hospital, in a news release shared with Becker's, said it is committed to bargaining in good faith to avoid a strike but has contingency plans to keep emergency and crucial care available if a strike ultimately occurs. 

At the press conference, COO Iman Simmons said: "We know that no one wins in a strike. The negative impact for our workplace, caregivers and community will last long after the strike itself ends. It would be in the best interest of our patients, our caregivers and our community for both sides to continue to work together at the negotiating table. St. Charles is committed to doing just that."

Ms. Simmons also noted that the health system is actively recruiting more nurses and has hired 118 RNs at St. Charles Bend in the last year. 

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