Nurses could strike in Bend


Nurses voted in nearly unanimous, record-breaking numbers in May to authorize a strike at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, one of the state’s largest hospitals east of the Cascade Range. 

In total, 962 nurses represented by the Oregon Nurses Association were eligible to vote, and nearly every one did. The vote came after nurses in April filed multiple unfair labor practice complaints and hosted informational pickets.

“We’ve done all these actions to show the hospital we are united and we are serious about our proposals,” said Heather Bristol, a staff nurse and union steward in the neonatal intensive care unit who has worked at St. Charles for 19 years. “Our executive (bargaining) team is representing the interest of almost 1,000 nurses — and pretty much every nurse is behind them.” 

St. Charles Health System is a private nonprofit corporation with medical centers in Bend, Redmond, Prineville, and Madras. It is the largest provider of medical care in Central Oregon, and the only Level II Trauma Center east of the Cascades is housed in its Bend facility. 

St. Charles nurses have been without a contract since December, when their previous agreement expired. Bristol said hospital executives have stonewalled the union’s proposals to set safe staffing standards, ensure nurses get regular breaks, and boost wages and benefits — three ideas for recruiting and retaining staff at a hospital that desperately needs it. 

According to ONA, St. Charles is recruiting for more than 300 nursing positions and is closing beds due to staff shortages. Nurses also reported missing more than 42,000 legally required rest and meal breaks during 2022 due to unsafe staffing levels, ONA says.

“This is not just about us. We are advocating for our community, so that in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, we still have a strong healthcare workforce to take care of our community,” Bristol said. 

Union leaders will give St. Charles 10 days notice before walking out, so management has time to transfer patients if necessary. The bargaining team planned to meet with hospital executives for at least four more bargaining sessions, two of which were scheduled May 23 and 24. Aside from a tentative agreement for grievance procedures, there was little progress in those bargaining sessions, said ONA chief of staff Scott Palmer. 

“ONA is surprised that St. Charles management would ignore the historic turnout and support for the strike authorization vote and simply continue to stonewall nurses during our negotiations,” Palmer wrote in an email. “Although the St. Charles bargaining team continues to be committed to, and encourage the hospital to, come to an agreement, we are continuing to plan for a strike in earnest.” 

Roughly 1,400 ONA-represented nurses at Providence Portland and Providence Seaside also launched strike authorization votes in April, and about 130 more workers with Providence Home Health and Hospice were slated to take a strike vote May 30, after this issue went to press. Results of the nurses’ votes will be tallied June 4. 

If all three groups authorize a strike, that would mean almost 15% of ONA’s more than 16,000 members would be poised to walkout. Like the St. Charles nurses, Providence workers say they are fighting for market wages, adequate paid time off, improved health benefits, and reasonable workload standards. 


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