Strikes Back on Table as Nurses at Providence St. V’s Reject Tentative Deal

A strike at one or more area hospitals, including Providence Willamette Valley in Oregon City and Providence Milwaukie, remains a possibility after nurses at the largest of the three medical centers — Providence St. Vincent in Portland — rejected a tentative agreement with management.

Their union, the Oregon Nurses Association, negotiated the tentative deal earlier in June covering 1,600 nurses at St. V’s. But union members voted to reject it by a 4-to-1 margin, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported June 23.

“Put simply, hundreds of experienced, front-line ONA nurses looked at Providence’s offer and said it’s not good enough,” said registered nurse Jessica Lobell, a maternity nurse at St. Vincent and a member of ONA’s bargaining team, according to the TV and radio public broadcasting network.

Now, the ONA nurse bargaining team at St. Vincent and hospital leadership will return to negotiations.

“Using the federal mediator who helped us come up with the current proposed contract, we hope to quickly work through our differences to draft a contract the represented nurses of Providence St. Vincent will approve,” Jennifer Burrows, RN, CEO at St. Vincent, said in a statement.

The statement added, “Over the past eight months, Providence St. Vincent Medical Center has been working with ONA to deliver a fair pay and benefits package to our nurses.

“We are committed to ensuring our valued nurses receive a fair pay and benefits package. I remain confident we will get through these trying times and we will continue to serve our community — together.”

Though ONA union leaders are holding separate and independent contract negotiations for each of the three Providence medical centers, a successful agreement at St. V’s would likely have put tremendous pressure on the much smaller Willamette Falls and Milwaukie hospitals to end their holdouts.

Disgruntled nurses and union leaders have painted Providence as a health system that has changed its culture and lost its way as it pursues growth. Administrators no longer know their nurses’ names or listen to their requests for specific equipment or supplies, according to the nurses.

“For all the crosses and mission statements we walk by in the hospital halls, it’s clear to every nurse that Providence isn’t run by the nuns anymore,” Virginia Smith, a charge nurse at Providence Willamette Falls and an ONA board member. “It’s a multi-billion dollar business run by corporate executives.”

Nurses at St. Vincent voted to authorize a strike in May but have not officially called one. A strike is still a possibility moving forward if the sides are unable to resolve their dispute.

ONA-represented nurses at Providence Willamette Falls Medical Center and Providence Milwaukie Hospital have also voted to authorize strikes. All three hospitals are part of Renton, Wash.-based Providence.

ONA represents more than 4,000 frontline nurses working in 10 Providence Health System facilities from Portland to Medford including nearly 150 nurses working at Providence Hood River.

Front-line nurses held a march and informational picket about raising health care standards for nurses and patients in the Hood River community Friday afternoon.

Providence is the largest health system in the Pacific Northwest and among the wealthiest nonprofits in the region. In Oregon, it manages eight hospitals and more than 90 clinics.

The union is required to give administrators a 10-day notice before a strike would take place at any of the three hospitals.

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