Nurses at Providence Willamette Falls Medical Center recently voted to accept a tentative labor agreement, ending the threat of a strike at the Oregon City hospital, union officials announced Monday.
The vote to ratify the agreement reached by Oregon Nurses Association leaders and hospital administration was “overwhelmingly” and “nearly unanimously” in favor, said Kevin Mealy, a spokesman for the ONA, which represents the hospital’s 233 nurses.
The hospital is the first of three Providence-affiliated hospitals where nurses approved a new contract after voting earlier this year to authorize a strike if labor negotiations failed.
The other two hospitals are Providence Milwaukie, which is a similar size with 239 nurses, and the much-larger Providence St. Vincent in Portland, which boasts a nursing staff of some 1,600.
Nurses at both hospitals have separate votes coming up on tentative agreements. At each hospital, nurses vote on contracts separately, meaning nurses at either or both of the remaining hospitals could still go on strike if they reject their agreements.
Usually, contracts are negotiated separately. In this case, Providence and the nurses union’s bargaining teams from all three hospitals made headway after they met for an unprecedented, 24-hour joint bargaining session that ended on June 29.
Mealy said the joint bargaining process moved the process along because nurses had a collective voice.
“It raises standards for patients as well as nurses,” Mealy said in an interview with The Lund Report. “It gave us the ability to push for the types of safety measures and recruitment and retention issues that will move the needle for patients.”
The new contract provides that nurse staffing plans will be adopted at each hospital in accordance with Oregon’s safe nursing law, which means nurses could file a grievance for violations in addition to filing a complaint with the Oregon Health Authority.
Other provisions included an 8% pay increase the first year, with across-the-board raises of 3% in each subsequent year and full retroactive pay increases that go back to January 3.
Less-desired shifts like nights and weekends (which are more difficult to adequately staff) will received additional compensation under the agreement, and health insurance plans for nurses will have a cost reduction of $1,500 annually for coverage.
The provisions were described as “major economic wins” in a memo from union leadership to Willamette Falls nurses urging them to vote in favor of the contract.
“Another huge win for the nurses of [Providence Willamette Falls] is the solidarity we have built with each other and our colleagues across the providence bargaining units over the course of this contract negotiation cycle,” the circular read in part.
“Our unity is tremendously valuable to keep holding Providence accountable to raising our standards of working conditions, nurse practice and patient safety.”
A get-together to celebrate the contract’s approval was planned for Willamette Falls nurses at Oregon City Brewing Company Monday evening.
The vote marks the first success for negotiations after an earlier setback with the team representing Providence St. V’s.
Nurses at Providence St. Vincent rejected an earlier tentative agreement in June, forcing bargaining teams back at the table and stoking fears they would go on strike. The contract there and at Providence Willamette Falls had expired at the end of 2021.
Providence Milwaukie also has a tentative agreement and its vote date is not yet scheduled. That hospital’s contract expired May 1.
In a statement, Providence Health & Services welcomed the vote and thanked both bargaining teams for reaching a “fair and equitable agreement.”
“We look forward to continuing to work together with ONA and our nurses as we support the practice of nursing and providing high-quality, compassionate care for the patients and communities we serve,” the health system’s statement said.
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