Nurses strike at six Providence hospitals


More than 3,000 Oregon nurses walked off the job and onto the picket line June 18 in the biggest nurses strike the state has ever seen.

The nurses, members of Oregon Nurses Association, struck six Providence Health & Services hospitals over low pay, poor work conditions and sub-par health benefits. 

As of press time, hundreds of nurses in green ONA t-shirts — many brandishing green pool noodles — were on picket lines outside of Providence hospitals in the Portland metro area, Newberg, and Medford. 

The hospital network hired an unknown number of replacement nurses from across the country to continue caring for patients and reportedly transferred some patients to other hospitals. ONA-represented nurses at Providence Portland Medical Center are still working, having ratified a separate contract last August after a five-day strike.

“Our hospitals are open and ready to care for our patients,” Providence said in a press statement. “We have secured the services of highly qualified, experienced replacement workers who will be working alongside our existing caregivers.”

Outside of Providence Milwaukie Hospital, a 77-bed hospital just south of Portland, several dozen nurses picketed Tuesday morning. Between chants of “nurses united will never be divided,” they blasted disco music and cheered as passing cars honked horns in support. It was the first nurse strike there since 2003 when newly-unionized nurses held a one-day strike to secure a first contract. 

“We want to work!” said Stacy Davis, a registered nurse who works on a medical surgical unit. Like nurses at other Providence facilities, Davis said the Milwaukie hospital is short-staffed. Nurses often leave for better-paying positions at other hospitals, she said.

Pay varies by hospital and a nurse’s experience. For example, a nurse with 10 years of experience at Providence St. Vincent in Portland would earn about $64 an hour. That’s $5 an hour less than the same nurse would make at Oregon Health & Science University, amounting to almost $10,000 less a year, according to the ONA. That gap widens to almost $20,000 for nurses with 30 years of experience.

Nurses who stay at Providence have to take on too many patients or skip breaks and meals, Davis said. A Providence spokesperson did not reply to a request for comment. 

The nurses planned to strike for three days, but Providence notified the union that because its strikebreakers were hired for five days, it won’t let strikers return to work on Friday, extending the stoppage with a two-day lockout. 

ONA spokesperson Kevin Mealy said the pay and benefits proposals submitted by the two sides were very far apart. He said Providence refused to negotiate further with the ONA after it submitted its 10-day notice of the strike.

As the strike kicked off, both sides were focused on the care of patients. Providence Milwaukie managers had brought in about 15 replacement nurses on Wednesday, according to nurse Hannah Gunderson. That’s more staff than normal, she said. 

The use of replacement nurses is common, but controversial. According to KGW, Providence officials have accused the ONA of discouraging replacement nurses from taking jobs in Oregon during the strike. However, several nurses told Northwest Labor Press that they welcomed the help.

“In health care, it’s a unique situation. We can’t stop making a widget. These are human beings. So, the replacement workers are necessary,” said Katie Moslander, a nurse in the orthopedic unit at Providence St. Vincent. “I do hope they have enough strike nurses to care for our patients,” she added.

FLUSH IT DOWN Outside Providence St. Vincent, striking cardiac nurses Philip Donofrio and (in poop emoji costume) Whitney Martin.


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