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The Oregon Nurses Association organized an informational picket at the hospital on Tuesday, March 15.

PMG PHOTO: SALLY SEGAR - The Oregon Nurses Association organized an informational picket outside Providence St. Vincent Medical Center on Tuesday, March 16. The union called for contract improvements to improve patient and nurse safety.

Hundreds of nurses and supporters picketed outside Providence St. Vincent Medical Center at 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 15.

The Oregon Nurses Association, the union that organized the informational picket, called for improving patient safety by addressing Providence's staffing crisis and raising standards for nurses. The union also organized a virtual summit on the topic in February.

The union wants more staff hired, stronger patient safety standards, affordable healthcare, paid leave and fair compensation written into its nurses' contracts. The picket — not a strike — was intended to "make sure administration knows that we are committed to getting a fair deal for the nursing staff," said ONA nurse Kathy Keane.

Keane is also a member of the bargaining unit at Providence St. Vincent. The nursing contracts at St. Vincent and a couple other Providence hospitals in Oregon are expired or will soon, so bargaining is ongoing for new contracts.

PMG PHOTO: SALLY SEGAR - Nurse and bargaining unit member Kathy Keane speaks at the informational picket organized by the Oregon Nurses Association union on Tuesday, March 15.

"It's been a little challenging at times," Keane said. "But I think that we're continuing to bargain in good faith, and I have hope that we'll be able to get to an agreement that's fair for both parties."

Providence St. Vincent prepared a statement in advance of the picket, saying the union continues to reject proposed bargaining dates, despite efforts by the hospital to secure more dates.

"This staged event takes time and energy away from the bargaining process between the hospital and the union," said Jennifer Burrows, chief executive at Providence St. Vincent.

ONA steward Anne Marie Foreman has worked at Providence St. Vincent for almost 30 years. Foreman said hospital administration is making it difficult to negotiate.

"There's a lot coming from administration saying that ONA is unwilling to meet with them," Foreman said. "When in fact, the representatives that are negotiating are working nurses with families, and they have to adjust their schedules so that they can be there at those times where the admins are all being paid to be there, and our people are not."

Other local hospital systems like Kaiser and Oregon Health & Science University have safe staffing in their contracts, Foreman said, but Providence refuses to do the same.

In its written statement, Providence St. Vincent said it has "offered substantial wage increases and contract enhancements, including average pay increases of 9.3% in year one, 3% in year two and 2.5% in year three."

But Foreman said since nurses at the hospital are already substantially under market in terms of pay, that's not enough.

PMG PHOTO: SALLY SEGAR - Anne Marie Foreman, Oregon Nurses Association Steward and nurse at Providence St. Vincent, attends the union's informational picket organized outside the hospital on Tuesday, March 15.

Bargaining unit chair for Providence Home Health & Hospice hospitals, Jamie Aguilar, said ONA wants to show Providence that its nurses are "in it for the long haul. We're not backing down."

Aguilar said community members can help by "writing letters to leadership in Providence and demand that they listen to nurses and give us fair wages, affordable health care and safe staffing and our contracts."

It's written in Providence's contracts that nurses cannot strike, but they can if they are working under expired contracts.

"We'll continue to do collective actions," Aguilar said. "And I mean, nothing's off the table essentially, as far as strikes go."

PMG PHOTO: SALLY SEGAR - The Oregon Nurses Association, a union covering nurses across the state, organized an informational picket outside Providence St. Vincent Medical Center on Tuesday, March 15.

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