Providence Portland Workers Vote for Strike as Nurses Rally at O.C. Hospital

Nurses at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland have voted to authorize a strike — possibly setting the stage for the staff of Providence Willamette Falls, which serves Canby and Oregon City, to do the same.

The vote this week means it’s now up to the Oregon Nurses Association’s labor cabinet to decide whether to continue negotiating over a new contract for the nurses at Providence St. Vincent, or to call a strike. The union is required to give Providence 10 days’ notice before striking, a step it has not taken yet.

Union nurses picketed in front of Providence Willamette Falls Wednesday to air their own issues with Providence Health & Services in Oregon City, citing concerns with safety, staffing, pay, benefits and other issues.

The ONA, which represents nurses at both hospitals, said Wednesday’s demonstration was meant to inform people about “raising health care standards for nurses, patients and our communities.”

The contracts between nurses and Providence Willamette Falls and Providence St. Vincent Medical Center expired in December, and negotiations are currently underway for both hospitals. The two sides have met at least 17 times since September 2021.

“What we really want is a contract,” Jay Formick, a registered nurse and member of the bargaining team, told Fox 12. “We don’t want to strike and we don’t even particularly like marching around with signs. We just want a contract.”

Contract negotiations between the hospitals and the Oregon Nurses Association are happening at a time when nurses are in high demand. Working conditions during the pandemic have prompted many nurses to leave the profession entirely and the nationwide labor shortage is making it hard for employers to hire skilled employees.

Pay, which is lower than what’s offered at OHSU and Kaiser Permanente, time off, health benefits, and staffing coverage for nurses’ meal breaks are among the issues the Oregon Nurses Association says are sticking points.

“One of our big concerns in negotiations is finding language we can agree on that will keep patients safer,” Formick said. “But management is just digging their heels in and has rejected every opportunity we’ve given them.”

For its part, Providence Health & Services said its team has made good-faith efforts to negotiate and is eager to return to the bargaining table.

“We respect their right to picket,” Providence Willamette Falls CEO Brad Henry said. “They have every right to do that. We are eager to get the ONA back to the table.”

Providence will bring in a federal mediator for the next meeting, set for later this month.

Providence’s latest offer is a 7.75% increase in wages with contract enhancements and subsequent increases in the second and third years, but nurses say that’s not enough, failing to even keep pace with inflation.

“We don’t quite understand after all the rhetoric about valuing nurses, they’re not living up to it and showing that value by giving us a fair contract,” Formick said.

Formick said nurses do not want to strike, but will do so if they feel they have no other alternative. If a strike does happen, Henry told reporters Wednesday that the system plans to bring in replacement workers to ensure the hospital maintains operations.

“We have plans for replacement workers to come in and help us make sure that we can provide the high quality care that we have been providing so far,” Henry said.

Wednesday’s demonstration began with a march in front of the Providence Willamette Falls Community Center and wound through downtown Oregon City to the Clackamas County Courthouse, where community leaders and nurses spoke in favor of improved conditions and compensation for front-line health care workers.

The rally then marched back to the community center, where nurses picketed until well after dark.

ONA’s nurse bargaining team at Providence Willamette Falls is next scheduled to meet with Providence management on May 25.

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