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St. Charles says union rejected offer to talk — if it would drop plans to strike

(Update: Adding video)

Hospital also reveals details of negotiations, offer; cites operating losses

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – In "an effort to move forward negotiations on a first-time labor contract," St. Charles Health System said it approached the union representing more than 150 medical tech workers with an offer to return to the bargaining table with a federal mediator Wednesday -- if it would revoke its strike notice.

But it said the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals rejected Tuesday's offer, the same day a federal judge declined the hospital's request for a preliminary injunction to block Thursday's planned walkout and urged both parties to instead resume negotiations.

The union later acknowledged it rejected the offer to talk if they dropped strike plans, calling that "an infringement on their labor rights." So unless something changes, the walkout begins Thursday morning.

Here's the rest of Wednesday's news release from St. Charles:

The notice, which St. Charles received on Feb. 22, indicates the 156 technical employees represented by OFNHP plan to strike for an indefinite amount of time starting at 8 a.m. Thursday, March 4.   

“We simply don’t have the resources to focus on bargaining a new contract while we are actively preparing for a strike of our technical workforce,” said Aaron Adams, president of St. Charles Bend. “Our top priority must be ensuring we have replacement workers here to care for our community.” 

The timing of the strike is particularly challenging as St. Charles continues to suffer incredible financial losses due to COVID-19. The health system ended 2020 about $21 million below its financial targets, even after CARES Act relief funding – mostly because of extended periods of time where surgeries were canceled due to state restrictions or the high volume of COVID-19 patients. St. Charles is experiencing a difficult start to 2021 as well, after posting an operating loss of $4.9 million in the month of January. 

St. Charles is not alone. The American Hospital Association estimates that hospitals lost approximately $323 billion in revenue in 2020.  

“While many other health systems laid off staff early on in the pandemic, we made sure our caregivers continued to receive full paychecks, even when we didn’t have patients for them to care for,” Adams said. “We have put our caregivers and our patients first throughout this pandemic, which has been hard on us financially. It is unfortunate that OFNHP is now adding to that financial strain.” 

St. Charles values its caregivers and respects their rights to union representation. Before the strike notice was sent, the health system initiated discussions with a federal mediator to help move forward negotiations in the best interest of all involved.  

Only two core issues remain on the table at this time: compensation and union security.  

The teams have agreed upon wages for the first year of the contract. Under this agreement, the average hourly wage for techs in the bargaining unit will be $41.94 per hour, once the contract is ratified. This equates to an annual salary of $87,000 a year for a full-time equivalent position, not including overtime, premium pay, shift differentials and other benefits.  

As for union security, St. Charles has asked for an open shop in order to give its caregivers a choice on whether they are members of the union. The union has requested a closed shop, meaning all St. Charles technical employees represented by OFNHP could lose their jobs if they decide they do not want to join the union.  

“We believe in the rights of our caregivers who are interested in union representation to be represented,” Adams said. “But we also believe those who are not interested should have the same right to decline union membership.”  

At this time, the strike is scheduled to go forward on Thursday morning. The parties are still scheduled to meet with a federal mediator for the next bargaining session on Wednesday, March 10.

The union issued this release late Wednesday morning:

Medical Techs Walk Out on Strike Thursday Morning

Despite desperately trying to settle the contract with management, the medical caregivers at St. Charles Medical Center have been pushed to walk out on strike with over 90% participation.

BEND, Ore.—Tomorrow morning, March 4th, at 8:00AM, around 150 healthcare providers will walk out of St. Charles Medical Center and head to the picket line on strike. After bargaining for their first contract for more than a year, the medical techs say that they have experienced stalling, disrespect, and condescension from management. The union is currently still trying to negotiate a settlement with management, and despite management’s comments, the hospital has been unwilling to negotiate.

“The hospital is forcing a strike that does not need to happen,” says DeeDee Schumacher, a forty-year employee at St. Charles. “Instead, we would love to settle this contract and remain caring for the patients we love. But since St. Charles has been unwilling to show us the basic respect we deserve, we have no other choice. By going on strike we remind the hospital that we matter.”

Management has been unwilling to agree to basic wage proposals, as well as to guarantee a fair and equitable workplace. Instead, they filed a lawsuit in an attempt to stop the strike from taking place, which a federal judge threw out yesterday for its lack of merit.

At present, 94% of the techs have agreed to walk out on strike and it appears as though the hospital has been unable to replace them with skilled workers. Additionally, other unions, including the Oregon Nurses Association and the Teamsters, will be out supporting the workers, as well as community groups, local politicians and faith leaders. Management is only willing to negotiate if the union workers cancel their planned strike, which is an infringement on their labor rights.

Right now, the union workers are open to negotiating every hour up until tomorrow’s walk out and we hope that St. Charles will work with us so we can avert the strike together.

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