By Don McIntosh
Medical technologists at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, Oregon, voted to unionize by a nearly three-to-one on Sept. 5. The 90-to-34 vote adds 163 new members to 5,100-member Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP), and gives the workers at St. Charles a way to improve conditions and address ongoing frustrations.
“They were tired of being disrespected,” says OFNHP president Adrienne Enghouse.
The newly unionized unit includes technology specialists who work in anesthesia, surgery, nuclear medicine, endoscopy, pharmacy, and with diagnostic technologies like x-ray, ultrasound, and CAT scan. OFNHP, an affiliate of American Federation of Teachers (AFT), represents workers in similar classifications at Kaiser Permanente and the PeaceHealth hospital network.
Enghouse says the St. Charles technologists first contacted the union in 2017. She gave them tips and an AFT union organizing guide, but they developed the union organizing campaign largely on their own, with some help from her, and since February, newly hired external organizer Chris Johnson.
Enghouse said workers hope through a union to increase wages and address problems with understaffing, as nurses and medical techs elsewhere have done.
“We’ve seen what the nurses have been able to do with their union,” says Judy Munro, a radiological technologist who works in the cardiac cath lab. At St. Charles, about 900 registered nurses are represented by OFNHP’s sister union, Oregon Nurses Association (both are affiliates of AFT), and get regular raises and other union benefits.
Munro — a 36-year St. Charles employee — says being without union up to now has meant she and her fellow technologists have sometimes gone three years without a raise. It also meant they had no say when St. Charles decided to change the definition of part-time. Even though 10 to 30 “call-back” hours are commonly added to her previously scheduled 30 hours a week, Munro was no longer considered full-time, and her contribution to health premiums went up monumentally.
After the union campaign got started. St. Charles gave technologists 2% and 1% raises. It also campaigned against the union in one-on-one and group meetings and direct appeals from hospital president Aaron Adams.
“I am humbly asking you to vote ’no’ in this election,” Adams wrote in an Aug. 28 letter to workers. “I would like time to work directly with you to address your critical issues and concerns.”
“I think a lot of us, three to one, humbly declined,” Munro told the Labor Press, “You know, we’ve been asking for all of these things for years.”
“You can’t make management respect you,” says Enghouse, the OFNHP president. “But you can hold them accountable for the way they treat you. And that’s what a contract does for you.”
Despite opposition from St. Charles management, Enghouse said workers ran a positive campaign. But if the past is any guide, their effort may have just begun: A unit of 600 service and maintenance workers at St. Charles voted narrowly to join SEIU Local 49 in 2011, but were unable to get an acceptable first contract, and 21 months later, voted to go non-union again.
But technologists say their campaign has already had an impact: Across different departments, they’ve gotten to know each other, and they feel more unified.
“We’re a union — it just means ‘together,’” says X-ray technician Russ Amundson.
“I don’t think a lot of people get a chance to be part of a small revolution in their lives,” Amundson told the Labor Press. “This has made every day at work better. I’ve met all these people that normally I would have just walked by and smiled at. Now I know all these people. I know they’re professionals. And now they’re friends.”