By MALLORY GRUBEN
One week after union nurses reached an impasse in negotiations with Oregon Health and Sciences University, the hospital announced a $1 billion merger with Legacy Health System. The deal — if approved by the Oregon Health Authority, Washington Health Department, and the Federal Trade Commission — would combine the two largest health care systems in the Portland region and create what would be the city’s single largest employer.
“While nurses at OHSU have been at the bargaining table looking for management to step up and do what is right for their nurses and their patients, OHSU’s management have been short-changing the nurses in their contract offers while also pledging more than $1 billion over 10 years to an acquisition,” the Oregon Nurses Association wrote in a press statement reacting to news of the acquisition. ONA represents more than 3,500 nurses at OHSU. They started contract negotiations in December and have been working without a contract since their previous agreement expired June 30. On Aug. 9, they declared an impasse, which starts a timeline for mediation and eventually, if that fails, a strike.
OHSU officially announced the merger Aug. 16 after The Oregonian broke the news first based on tips from four anonymous sources. The transaction is expected to close in 2024.
Although ONA wants the hospital to finish contract negotiations before focusing on the merger, the union says it will work with OHSU and Legacy as they work out the details. The union is optimistic it could improve conditions for the 13,000 workers at Legacy, some of whom are represented by ONA and SEIU Local 49. Those workers recently spoke out against an attempted closure of the Family Birth Center at Legacy Mt. Hood and a shooting at Legacy Good Samaritan that killed one security guard.
It was not immediately clear how the merger would affect the unions. For example, OSHU support staff are considered public employees and are represented by AFSCME Local 328, while Legacy support staff are considered private employees and represented by SEIU Local 49. So far it’s unclear if the units would merge or stay separate.