Nurses picket Astoria hospital

By Don McIntosh

About 200 nurses and supporters took up picket signs Aug. 20 outside Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria to call for a fair contract and publicize the message that “safe staffing saves lives.”

About 135 members of Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) have been working at Columbia Memorial without a union contract since their previous one expired May 31. Nurses there want an end to high-deductible health insurance and highly erratic work schedules: Part-time nurses can see their hours fluctuate from 20 to 35 in any given week. ONA members also want the hospital to put minimum staffing rules in its collective bargaining agreement, something other hospital employers have done. A state law passed in 2001 requires hospitals to have a minimum staffing plan developed by a joint committee of nurse managers and direct care nurses, but ONA says Columbia Memorial violated that law in its birthing department. The union has a pending complaint about that with the Oregon Health Authority.

Nurse understaffing is a real problem at Columbia Memorial, says ONA rep Amber Cooper: nearly every department has open positions they cannot fill. One of the reasons is wages that are the fifth lowest of any hospital in Oregon. Registered nurses there start at $34.98 an hour and top out at $52.48.

“I have nurses saying they earned more as a bartender and are considering going back to it,” Cooper told the Labor Press.

Columbia Memorial is financially healthy. In 2017, the most recent year for which figures are publicly available, the 25-bed hospital paid its CEO Erik Thorsen $645,000 and paid for his country club membership.

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