Nurses say strike could be coming at Providence


Nurses at Providence health facilities statewide say they’re overworked and underpaid, and they say management is unwilling to fix that in current contract negotiations. During a virtual discussion hosted by Oregon Nurses Association (ONA), members said they’ll hold the line on key priorities, even if it means going on strike.

More than 4,000 ONA members work for Providence, Oregon’s largest health system, and seven Providence nurse contracts are up for renegotiation this year. Those include contracts at Providence St. Vincent in Portland and Providence Willamette Falls in Oregon City that expired Dec. 31; a contract in Hood River that expires in March; at Milwaukie that expires in May; at Seaside that expires in November; and contracts at Providence Portland and for home care that expire at the end of December.

While the facilities bargain as separate units, nurses are looking to address key issues as a united front: safe staffing, patient safety, better patient care, and respect on the job. Joe West, ONA’s lead negotiator on the St. Vincent contract, said there’s been an “outright refusal” by management to address those in recent negotiations. 

In the St. Vincent and Willamette Falls negotiations, Providence has rejected minimum nurse staffing standards that were agreed upon at Kaiser and Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU), according to the union’s bargaining team. And Providence is offering 15.5% in wage increases over three years for St. Vincent workers, while the union is proposing 20.3%. In Willamette Falls, the hospital is offering 8% and ONA proposing a 16% raise over three years. 

Nurses paint grim picture

“Considering a strike is not very far away from nurses’ minds across the system, especially those that have contracts that are expired or are about to expire,” said Brittany Foss, a registered nurse at Providence Hood River.

Foss said Providence has some of the lowest standards in Oregon health systems and is the only major health system that refuses to put staffing language into nurses contracts. Providence nurses also get 60 hours less in leave per year than those at comparable organizations, $3 to $5 an hour less in wages, and have higher health care premiums.

ONA has been proposing retention bonuses for more than two years without progress, while managers and supervisors have received bonuses, said Richard Botterill, chair of ONA’s executive committee and negotiation chair at Providence Portland Medical Center.

“We don’t get a thing, and we’re the people on the front line,” Botterill said. “It’s the nurses that are leaving in droves, quite frankly, a lot of the senior and more experienced nurses.”

Botterill said there are days where the Providence Portland emergency department has wait times above seven hours. Workers often arrive for their shifts and there are 30 or more patients waiting in the emergency department, because the hospital is full.

“It gets ugly in a hurry, and it becomes unsafe,” he said. “Now throw in the lack of staffing and our short-staffing on top of that.”

Nicole Hudson, a charge nurse in the Providence Willamette Falls emergency department, said it’s common for nurses to stay after their scheduled shift ends because of the staffing shortage. They often work 16 hours a day with few breaks. Nurses do these things because they feel an obligation to ensure patients get quality care. 

“But when will Providence feel that obligation?” Hudson asked.

The stress isn’t confined to Providence facilities. Providence home care nurses are seeing similar burnout, said Mark Miers, a certified wound ostomy nurse and leader within the Providence home health and hospice division. Morale there is the lowest Miers has seen in his 34 years in nursing. Certified wound ostomy nurses joined ONA last year, driven by deteriorating work conditions.

One year into the pandemic, Providence management increased the workload on all home health nurses by at least 15% and, for many, by 80%. Miers said it felt like workers were struggling just to tread water, “and management hands you an anchor.” The increased workload was announced on a Monday and took effect three days later, he said.

That drove a “mass exodus,” Miers said, and the nurses are being replaced slowly and by workers with less experience, facing the same pressures and higher workload.

“That is a recipe for medical mistakes to be made,” Miers said.


Nurses will hold an informational picket outside Providence St. Vincent from 5 to 7 p.m. March 15. For details and to sign a pledge to attend, visit

1 Comment

  1. I’ve worked at Ppmc for almost 30 years. I’d like the public to know that National guard have been saving our butts for quite awhile. They are leaving soon. Travelers came in due to OHA/Covid. They will be leaving soon too. Media says Covid hospitalization is down but what your not saying is how full we still are. Patients are waiting days to get a bed on the floors. Now we are starting up elective surgeries again too!! It’s just not letting up!

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