Nurses union calls for higher standards at Providence hospitals
The Oregon Nurses Association called for improved contracts, work conditions and health benefits from Providence Health & Services in a virtual summit on Tuesday, Feb. 15.
The union is planning a systemwide informational picket at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center — just outside of Beaverton — on March 15.
Brittany Foss, ONA member and nurse at Providence Hood River Medical Center, said the company's Oregon region hospitals have the least protections and benefits for nurses despite being the largest healthcare system in the state.
"(Providence has) refused to put staffing law language into our contracts," Foss said, while leading the virtual summit. "They're also the only system that's refused to agree to a reporting process for unsafe staffing assignments — to place that language in our contracts — and they continue to insist that our nurses receive as much as 60 hours less leave time per year than RNs that work right up the road."
In addition, Foss said Providence nurses make $3 to $5 less in wages and their healthcare premiums are as much as 18 times more compared to similar employers.
Foss said two contracts with Providence's St. Vincent and Willamette Falls hospitals recently expired, and two contracts recently opened at Providence Milwaukie and Hood River.
"Now is our time to show our strength. Now is our time to really push Providence to invest in our caregivers and communities and to raise standards throughout the state," Foss said. "That's why we're standing together."
Over 700 nurses, union leaders, elected officials and others attended the virtual summit on Feb. 15.
Joe West, lead representative and negotiator for Providence St. Vincent, said the turnout emphasized that all Providence nurses are standing together.
At Providence St. Vincent specifically, West said there has been an "outright refusal" from the hospital to address its nurses' issues. He said the hospital hasn't done anything to address the concerns regarding health benefits, paid time off, overall leave time or nurse staffing, which is the union's chief workplace priority.
West said expiring contracts open the opportunity to "make sure Providence sees that nurses aren't going to settle any contract that doesn't address the very real concerns that reflect sacrifice of their experiences."
Every nurse working for Providence — and nurses across the country — has experienced the challenge of working during the pandemic, and nurses are the lifeblood of the healthcare system, said Sharon Meieran, a Multnomah County commissioner who spoke at the summit.
"We have made sacrifices over the last few years, and now we're asking Providence to recognize that sacrifice with tangible and lasting improvements for our working conditions," said Virginia Smith, a nurse at Providence Willamette Falls. "Our goal is a fair contract. Our goal is to have our uncontroversial and reasonable proposals be met with a fair agreement. And it's time for engagement from Providence. We are not a cost. We are invaluable."
In an email, Providence St. Vincent spokesperson Lisa Helderop said negotiations occur at the hospital level, not companywide.
Helderop said Providence St. Vincent's latest proposal to the Oregon Nurses Association includes pay increases of 9.3% in the first year and what she described as a "strong benefits package."
"Staffing plans are developed at the unit level — as negotiated with ONA for our current contract. ONA does not propose to change that process," she said.
She also said Providence presented the latest proposal on Jan. 28, then ONA canceled a Feb. 8 bargaining session before later accepting two of Providence's eight proposed dates: Feb. 17 and March 17.
"Contracts are settled at the bargaining table," Helderop said. "We encourage ONA to return to the bargaining table and continue working toward an agreement."
At the summit, Smith said the union is dealing with pushback from Providence St. Vincent and Willamette Falls, with the hospitals saying "this is all we can do" for contracts.
In addition to local actions — such as sending around a petition for raising standards at Willamette Falls — the union is asking nurses and community members to attend the picket on March 15 outside St. Vincent.
The event will be an "informational picket," organizers said, not a strike. According to the union's website, an informational picket is a demonstration of solidarity and will take place off-campus, not during work hours.
Learn more about the picket and ONA's concerns online at www.oregonrn.org/page/NURS.
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