By COLIN STAUB
Nurses at Providence hospitals in Oregon City and Milwaukie are voting through June 2 on whether to authorize a strike, and results were set to be announced June 3. The two bargaining units total about 470 nurses. Their strike vote comes after 1,600 nurses at Providence St. Vincent voted to authorize a strike early last month.
Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) represents nurses at Providence hospitals statewide.
Virginia Smith is a charge nurse at Providence Willamette Falls Medical Center in Oregon City, and a member of the ONA executive committee. She said members want a contract that helps the hospital retain and recruit nurses. Willamette Falls needs about 250 nurses for full staffing, Smith said. Right now to get to full staffing the hospital is relying on 50 temporary “travel” nurses who are paid three times the wages of regular permanent workers.
“To be a bedside nurse today is to work in constant uncertainty, anxiety, and profound moral distress,” Smith said at May 23 press conference announcing the strike votes.
Peggy Elia, a resource nurse and union leader at Providence Milwaukie Hospital, said nurses would be more inclined to stay at Providence if there was fair market compensation.
A May 18 bargaining update that ONA provided to members shows how far apart the two sides are. For nurses at Providence Milwaukie, ONA is asking for an immediate 10% raise plus additional increases totaling 15% over three years, while Providence is offering an immediate 1.75% raise plus 4.25% over two years. For nurses at Willamette Falls, ONA is asking for wage increases totaling 21.6% over three years, while Providence is offering 11.8%.
Nurses are also asking for an $800 reduction in annual health care premiums.
“Many experienced nurses have already left, and more are leaving every day,” Elia said. “Our new nurses leave as soon as they have enough experience for a better job somewhere else.”
ONA says nurses at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center voted “overwhelmingly” to strike in ballots tallied May 4. If nurses at Milwaukie and Willamette Falls authorize a strike and nurses at all three facilities do strike, ONA has not said whether strikes would occur simultaneously or separately.
ONA contracts expired in December 2021 at Providence St. Vincent and Providence Willamette Falls, in March 2022 at Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, and in May 2022 at Providence Milwaukie. That means more than 2,000 nurses are now working without a contract. ONA contracts at Providence Portland, Seaside and Home Health & Hospice will be up later this year.
ONA organizer Gabriel Erbs says the number of ONA contracts with Providence expiring in the same year is unprecedented.