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St. Charles nurses to picket if contract isn’t reached


(Update: Adding hospital statement, video)

Nurses at St. Charles Bend have voted to authorize informational picketing of the hospital on Monday, Jan. 21, if ongoing federal mediation efforts continue to be unsuccessful, the Oregon Nurses Association said Tuesday.

Hospital nurses have been working without a contact for nearly seven months “while they advocate to improve patient care and fix the hospital’s chronic staffing and safety problems in contract negotiations with St. Charles executives,” the ONA said in a news release.

More than 95 percent of the nearly 900 nurses at St. Charles Bend voted to authorize the informational picket if a fair agreement isn’t reached by Jan. 21. After months of failed negotiations, the union said there are only two remaining contract mediation dates scheduled, this Thursday and Friday.

“Nurses are standing up to protect our patients’ safety and make sure our community has a say in what happens inside their local hospital,” said Angie Streeter, ONA leader and RN at St. Charles Bend. “Our patients deserve safe health care every time. We can’t keep waiting for St. Charles corporate executives to fix the problems they’ve caused. Our community deserves better.”

The union explained that an informational picket is a peaceful public event that allows community members to engage with nurses as they share information about how to improve local health care.

“It is not a strike or work stoppage,” it said. “Nurses will participate in the informational picket during their personal time. Local community members are encouraged to attend the informational picket to ask questions and show their support for nurses.”

Informational picket date, times and location

Monday, Jan. 21

7:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.

11:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

St. Charles Bend

On public sidewalks between the intersections of Neff Road, NE Williamson Boulevard and NE Medical Center Drive.

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, nurses will also be collecting food for needy families in Central Oregon. If you plan to participate, please bring a non-perishable food item to donate to local families in need.

The hospital issued its own statement on the picketing Tuesday, noting it was not a strike or work stoppage. It reads as follows:

St. Charles Health System and the ONA — which represents about 915 nurses on the Bend campus — have been negotiating a three-year contract since early June. The bargaining teams have met 24 times including several sessions with a federal mediator and have resolved most of the language changes in the contract. Nearly all contract language related to nurse staffing has been agreed upon. Outstanding issues include wages, benefits, the grievance process and unit practice committees.

“We respect our nurses and their right to hold this informational picket,” said St. Charles Bend President Aaron Adams. “While we have made much progress on the contract over the past six months, we have not yet reached a final agreement. We look forward to meeting again at the bargaining table later this week.”

The hospital will continue to operate normally during this event and is committed to providing the best possible care to the community.

“The majority of remaining issues have to do with wages and benefits,” Adams said.

The outstanding articles cover the process by which the nurses grieve disputes; continuing education; how nurses are selected for unit practice committees and incorporating some language from St. Charles Prineville’s contract. None of these items relate to patient safety or safe staffing.

“We value our nurses and are proud that they are among some of the highest paid in the nation,” he said. “We are committed to continue the hard work needed at the negotiating table to reach an agreement.”

More details of the status of contract talks have come to light in a pair of recently published columns in The Bulletin.

Iman Simmons, chief operating officer at St. Charles Health System, claimed nearly all contract language related to staffing has been agreed upon, and that wages and benefits are the key remaining issues.

Simmons said the hospital’s latest wage proposal offers almost 3 percent pay increases per year, when steps are included, but that ONA was seeking raises of 5.4 to 6.1 percent, which she said “are simply not sustainable” and “far exceed” those given to non-contract workers.

The hospital also has proposed a 5 percent shift in health insurance premium costs to the nurses, the same as non-contract caregivers, Simmons said.

She also said the ONA “may ultimately be planning for a strike,” but that St. Charles “will be prepared to keep our doors open no matter what.”

In a responding column, nurses and contract negotiating team members David Hilderbrand and Julie Bostrom said they disagreed with Simmons and other St. Charles executives on issues such as the hospital’s “fuzzy financial math” and what the talks are all about.

They said nurses have been speaking out about staffing and safety issues for years, reporting more than 600 unsafe or inadequate staffing incidents since 2015, but that hospital officials “still don’t seem to get the message.”

“It’s hard to justify paying CEOs and COOs high six-figure salaries and handing out executive bonuses when the hospital’s staffing problems keep getting worse,” they wrote.

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