By MALLORY GRUBEN
Oregon Nurses Association is asking the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold union elections for two more units of workers at Providence Health and Services. One includes 60 doctors, nurses and midwives at six Portland-area women’s clinics. The other includes 130 physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, social workers and counselors at Providence Home Health and Hospice in the Portland metro, North Coast, Yamhill County and Columbia River Gorge.
The home health and hospice workers announced their union drive in a dramatic fashion. About a dozen of them walked into a Feb. 22 bargaining session between nurses and Providence management to ask that management recognize their decision to unionize.
“We kind of barged in on bargaining, and the management looked a little surprised,” said Suzanne Nicks, a Clark County speech therapist who has worked for Providence Home Health for 15 years. “I read the declaration to them, and the corporate lawyer who was there immediately said they would not voluntarily recognize the union.”
The next day, the group asked the NLRB to hold a union election to show that the union has majority support. The workers and management have agreed to do the election by mail-in ballot; ballots will be mailed March 24 and must be returned by April 14.
Union supporters at both units say they’re increasingly frustrated with Providence’s productivity demands.
“All of us go into healthcare in some sense to help people, and it really feels that it’s not the priority of Providence right now,” said Michelle Botsford, a home health physical therapist with Providence East.
Botsford, 29, said Providence recently implemented a point system that requires providers to meet with a certain number of patients each shift and outlines how long each visit should last. She is expected to get seven points in a 10-hour workday. If she doesn’t meet that quota, she could be disciplined. Most visits take at least an hour, leaving little “wiggle room” to complete additional paperwork, answer questions about medication or provide care above and beyond a follow-up visit. Sometimes she stays longer to wait with a patient for an ambulance.
“In the back of my head I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to miss my next patient, and I’m not going to meet my productivity goal.’”
Employees at the women’s clinics are seeing a similar speed-up. When OB-GYN doctor Charlie Saltalamacchia started at a Providence women’s clinic seven years ago, he typically saw 14 to 18 patients a day; that has almost doubled to 22 to 30 in recent years. That means each patient gets less time with the doctor, and providers feel like they are not empowered to do their best work, Saltalamacchia said.
Saltalamacchia said about two years ago, he and coworkers started asking managers for change internally, but their requests were largely ignored.
They’ll be harder to ignore once workers join the union.
Providence is Oregon’s largest healthcare provider and one of the state’s largest employers. It runs eight hospitals and more than 90 clinics in the state. In 2021, the nonprofit Catholic-affiliated health network reported $27.3 billion in operating revenue, including about $5.1 billion from its Oregon operations.
“Providence Medical Group, Providence Home Health and Providence Hospice respect the rights of caregivers to explore representation,” wrote Providence spokesperson Gary Walker in an email to the Labor Press. “We encourage people to learn as much as possible about joining a union before voting. To that end, we will provide open and transparent conversations, support and education so that they can make an informed decision.”
ONA represents more than 4,000 nurses, doctors and other health workers at 12 Providence healthcare facilities throughout Oregon.
DOCTORS TOO: A unit of 13 emergency room doctors at Providence Medford Medical Center also wants to unionize. The Pacific Northwest Hospital Medicine Association, a sister affiliate of American Federation of Teachers, filed a petition Feb. 22 asking the NLRB to hold a union election.
All I want to know will it be a strike the end of March 2023 for healthcare workers at Portland hospitals.