By MALLORY GRUBEN
Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) reached tentative agreements Aug. 11 on new union contracts covering nurses and clinicians at Providence Portland and Providence Seaside. Those are two of the three bargaining units that held a five-day strike in June. If ratified, the agreements would provide significant pay raises, more time off, and safer staffing.
ONA represents nearly 1,400 nurses at Providence Portland, 100 nurses at Providence Seaside, and 400 nurses and clinicians at Providence Home Health and Hospice. On June 19-23, the three units held Oregon’s first nurses strike in nearly two decades.
Nurses at Providence Home Health and Hospice are still without a new contract. Their bargaining team left joint mediation around 5 a.m. Aug. 11 without an agreement because the sides remained far apart on wages and safe staffing protections.
Richard Botterill, the chair of the union bargaining committee at Providence Portland, said the strike strengthened the union by building solidarity between the nurses and clinicians, and it showed how other Providence staff and most patients supported the union’s fight.
Botterill suspects that the strike didn’t lead to an immediate agreement precisely because hospital executives didn’t want a settlement to look like an acknowledgment that Providence mishandled the situation.
“I think from Providence’s perspective, they thought we were going to go out on strike, it was going to be an absolute failure, and we’d come back with our tails between our legs,” he said. “That was far from what happened.”
Under the tentative agreement with Providence Portland, nurse wages will increase between 17% and 27% over two years, on average. Seaside nurses will see wages increase 14%-20% on average, depending on which nursing unit they work for.
In both agreements, raises are retroactive to the previous contract’s expiration date (Nov. 30, 2022, for Seaside, and Dec. 31, 2022, for Portland).
Retroactive pay had been a sticking point throughout most of the negotiations, Botterill said. The hospital did not agree to full retro pay until the final hours of a mediated bargaining session with all three units, he said. Retroactive pay increases are meant to stop employers from gaining economically from having dragged out a contract settlement.
“We had made it very clear: No retro, no ratification,” Botterill said.
Both agreements also add 20 hours of paid time off each year of the contract. And they introduce language to set and enforce safe staffing standards. For example, under the Providence Portland agreement, the hospital would start a pilot program to add break nurses to eight units. Those nurses would cover patients for other nurses at lunch or on break, so no one would have to “double up” on patients while another nurse rests, Botterill said.
Members were voting as this issue went to press. If approved as expected, the agreements take effect immediately.
As for the third unit to strike —nurses at Providence Home Health and Hospice — additional bargaining sessions had not been announced when this issue went to press.
“We were honored to be with our … colleagues as they secured contract agreements early Friday morning. We sincerely wished we could have made that final push with them, but it was apparent that our negotiations needed more time,” the bargaining team wrote in an update to members. “We are more committed than ever to bringing back a fair agreement members will ratify.”