Providence Milwaukie union nurses receive City Council support
Declaring union nurses at Providence Milwaukie Hospital "essential for the health, safety and well-being of our community," Milwaukie's City Council passed a resolution supporting 239 employees at Providence Milwaukie in their ongoing contract negotiations with hospital administration.
"Nurses are the heart and soul of our communities' health care. Without them, health care would come to a screeching halt," said Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba. "I'm standing with (Oregon Nurses Association) nurses at Providence Milwaukie to put people before profits. During the pandemic, we all praised the frontline workers, like nurses, who put their lives and those of their families at risk, providing us with the best care they could. I expect Providence to treat them like the heroes that they are."
Hospital staff expressed their appreciation to Milwaukie community leaders taking action to stand with Oregon's nurses.
Councilor Lisa Batey said she abstained from the 3-0 vote because of the "rushed" process in discussing the City Council's unprecedented involvement in a employer-employee dispute. Councilor Kathy Hyzy was absent from the June 7 discussion.
Gamba, who's a candidate for state representative and whose term as mayor is ending Dec. 31, acknowledged that the council's involvement in union politics is unusual, but he justified the action as a public safety concern for the city.
Nurses at Providence Milwaukie and Willamette Falls have authorized strikes, and Providence Hood River is moving toward an informational picket.
Julie Davison, a nurse at Providence Milwaukie Hospital, testified at the City Council meeting with others who are leading the negotiations of behalf of the ONA. Davison's small unit has no backup during the best of times, and now is "fighting to make sure our patients have the basics."
"Our patients and our community are paying the price while Providence pads its bank account," Davison said. "Nurses are demanding Providence commit to raise standards so we can give our patients the care they need."
Administrators at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center reached a tentative agreement with its nurses' union on June 3 — a crucial step toward avoiding a strike at the hospital. Milwaukie and Willamette Falls unions are negotiating separately.
The tentative agreement on a new two-year contract at Providence St. Vincent includes improvements related to patient safety standards, nurse staffing, health care costs and wages.
But the agreement isn't final.
The 1,600 nurses represented by the ONA working at the hospital will vote on the contract in the coming weeks. If the nurses vote to approve the contract, it will take effect immediately and avert a strike at the hospital.
If not, a strike is still on the table.
"Nurses are dedicated to putting our patients first. We stood up to one of the nation's largest health care systems, and we've reached an agreement to make immediate improvements to our patients' health care," said John Smeltzer, ONA executive committee president at the hospital.
Nurses at Providence St. Vincent voted to authorize a strike in early May, but the hospital and union still had time to reach an agreement before a strike even happened.
The strike vote came after hospital nurses organized an informational picket in mid-March, drawing a crowd of hundreds.
The tentative agreement at Providence St. Vincent would raise patient safety standards across departments by improving access to personal protective equipment, incorporate nurse staffing language into contracts, lock in health benefit costs, limit health care premium increases and increase wages up to 14% over the next two years.
"This agreement addresses our patients' needs and gives us a viable way to recruit and retain the nurses our community counts on," Smeltzer said. "Now it's up to Providence and nurses to honor the agreements we've made and make Providence St. Vincent the hospital we know it can be."
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