Providence locks out striking nurses


The biggest nurses strike in Oregon history wrapped up on June 20, but it remains to be seen if the strike was a success. 

More than 3,000 nurses went on strike June 18 at six Providence Health & Services hospitals. The nurses sought better pay and health benefits, as well as compliance with a new state law that requires minimum staffing ratios, which is supposed to protect hospital workers from burnout and keep patients from danger.

As of press time on July 3, Providence management and the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) had not scheduled bargaining sessions. 

In fact, spokesperson Myrna Jensen told Northwest Labor Press that Providence has refused to negotiate with the union since early June, when ONA submitted a notice of nurses’ plans to walk off the job. A Providence spokesperson, Gary Walker, said the health system’s priority was to care for patients after receiving the notice. 

“ONA knew we would not return to the bargaining table until the strike concluded,” Walker said.

Providence managers also stopped communicating during the nurses strikes in Portland and Seaside last year, Jensen said.

Jensen expects that bargaining dates will be difficult to pin down this summer as nurses take planned vacations. She said Providence isn’t under any deadline to set dates, but members could vote to strike again if that process takes too long.

“We are still a ways out from that happening,” Jensen said.

Providence said it hired an ample supply of temporary nurses during the three-day strike to ensure that care of patients wasn’t disrupted at the six struck hospitals in the Portland metro area, Newberg, and Medford. In fact, some facilities appeared to staff too many nurses for some units, Jensen said. 

The three-day strike wrapped up on June 21 but Providence wouldn’t allow all striking nurses to return to work, so nurses continued to picket in protest of unfair labor practices, Jensen said. Management contacted some nurses to come to work if they were needed, Walker said. 

“Everyone turned around and headed back to the picket line,” Jensen said. 

Jensen said Providence’s move may be illegal. The union filed an unfair labor practice charge against the hospital network with the National Labor Relations Board.

The nurses strike came on the heels of a successful five-day strike last year by nurses at Providence Portland and Seaside facilities, as well as home health and hospice workers. After the strike, mediation resulted in contracts with increased pay and paid time off for workers at the two hospitals. 



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