Deal reached after 40 hours of talks with mediator over 2 days ; ONA cites 'historic wage increases'
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – After 40 hours of negotiations, St. Charles Bend and the Oregon Nurses Association have reached a tentative agreement outlining better working conditions for nurses. Nurse leaders are coming together Friday to discuss the details of the contract deal, which averted next week's strike.
ONA gave a 10-day strike notice to the hospital earlier this month. The walkout was set to happen next Monday, if there was no new contract (or enough progress toward one).
The nurses praise the contract’s focus on their three key areas of concern: recruitment of new nurses to work at St. Charles, retention of the nurses already employed by the facility, and workplace improvements including assurances related to meals and rest breaks and successorship language.
"The nurses are thrilled that they have achieved a successful tentative agreement that will be great for the nurses and also exceptionally good for the people of Bend and Central Oregon," ONA Chief of Staff Scott Palmer said Thursday.
Bend resident Daniel Sabin had this reaction to the agreement: "In my personal opinion, they went through a lot during the whole Covid chaos that was going on here."
"Mostly, I'm just grateful that the strike is over with because now means that they don't have to disrupt service for everybody," Sabin said. "That's the main goal here, because there's a lot of people in Bend who are sick and need help and need their medication."
If the contract wins approval, it will extend through June 30, 2026.
The nearly 1,000 nurses at Central Oregon's largest private employer had authorized a strike, dissatisfied with what the hospital was offering, and their union issued a 10-day strike notice for next Monday, unless a deal was reached.
If the contract is approved by ONA members, a starting base wage for nurses will go up almost $17 an hour over the term of the contract -- a 41% jump. Current nurses will see their base wage rise by 48%, including negotiated wage-scale increases.
The contract assures nurses will get their required rest and meal breaks -- or else be paid when they're missed. The nurses union said at St. Charles, there have been 42,000 missed, required rest and meal breaks.
"This contract helps provide assurances that nurses will get those breaks, which means they are less likely to burn out," Palmer said. "They are less likely to want to leave their job and they are much more likely to deliver the world class care that the people of Bend really deserve."
The nurses union tells us voting to ratify the tentative agreement begins in a few days.
Here is the press release from ONA:
St. Charles Bend and the union representing nearly 1,000 of its nurses announced they reached a tentative contract agreement early Thursday morning after more than 40 hours of negotiations over the last two days, including working with a federal mediator, heading off a strike that could have begun next Monday.
The nearly 1,000 nurses are represented by the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA), who said the new contract would extend until mid-2026, if approved by its members.
In a brief statement, St. Charles Health System said it "is pleased to announce that after two very full days and nights of bargaining we have reached a tentative agreement with the Oregon Nurses Association on a new three-and-a-half-year contract for the Bend hospital nurses.
"As part of the agreement, the ONA has withdrawn its 10-day strike notice and will work alongside St. Charles leaders to communicate the details of the contract with frontline nurses," the hospital said. "The more than 950 nurses in the Bend ONA bargaining unit will have the opportunity to vote to ratify the new contract in the coming weeks."
Here's the rest of the union's full announcement, spelling out details of the tentative agreement:
“It has been clear since the beginning of our negotiations that the nurses of St. Charles were laser-focused on three core issues,” said Erin Harrington, RN, chair of the St. Charles Bargaining Unit Executive Committee. “Move St. Charles management to a contract that will recruit new nurses to work at our hospital, retain the excellent nurses who already work here, and respect nurses by protecting their legal right to rest and meal breaks, and ensuring we keep our jobs should St. Charles be sold. This agreement does all of these things and more.”
Having reached this tentative agreement, nurse leaders from St. Charles have called off their planned strike, which was set to begin next Monday at 7:00 a.m. Voting to ratify the tentative agreement will begin within a few days, following detailed discussions of the proposed agreement with the nurses.
If approved, the agreement will include historic wage increases which are key to the recruitment of new nurses. Key provisions of the tentative agreement related to base pay include:
- The starting base wage for a nurse holding a bachelor’s degree in nursing will increase nearly $17.00 per hour over the life of the contract, or an increase of 41%.
- The average base wage for nurses currently on Steps 1 through 5 will increase by 48% over the life of the contract, including steps and negotiated increases to the wage scale.
Compared to the starting wage at Kaiser Permanente in the Pacific Northwest in the final year of their contract (expiring Sept. 30, 2025), the starting wage at the end of this contract for a nurse holding a bachelor’s degree in nursing will be 16% higher than the wage at Kaiser.
“Given St. Charles’ long-standing challenges recruiting new nurses to work at our hospital, these wins will be truly transformative for our ability to get new nurses at the bedside,” said Harrington. “Higher staffing levels are associated with a reduction in patient mortality, pressure ulcers, need for restraints, infection, and pneumonia among other health outcomes. In fact, research shows there is a 14% decrease in risk for in-hospital mortality for every additional one decrease in patient load over 24 hours.”
Additional elements were also agreed to with a specific focus on the retention of currently employed nurses. Nurse leaders had long pointed to St. Charles' inability to keep nurses on staff, noting that more than 500 nurses had left St. Charles in just the past few years alone. Those pay agreements include:
- The average base wage for nurses currently on Step 10 or higher would increase to by 36% per hour by the end of the contract, including steps and negotiated increases to the wage scale.
- The average base wage for nurses currently on Step 20 or higher would increase to nearly 33% per hour by the end of the contract, including steps and negotiated increases to the wage scale.
Nurses were also able to secure additional contract protections specifically related to rest and meal breaks. St. Charles’ own data indicated that nurses missed 42,000 legally required rest and meal breaks in 2022. Research has clearly shown that nurses who miss breaks are more likely to burn out, experience exhaustion, and are ultimately more likely to leave the bedside.
“For our nurses, this contract is going to be a game-changer. But it is really the impact on our patients that is the most gratifying,” said Harrington. “We have always put our patients, and the care of our community, front and center. With this contract, we can recruit more nurses, keep the nurses we have, stop the bleeding of nurses leaving the hospital, and ensure our nurses are supported.”
The new agreement provides assurances that nurses will receive their breaks or will receive payments when their breaks are missed. Nurses were also able to reach agreement with management that the provisions of the new contract, once passed, will remain in place even if St. Charles were to be sold to a new health system.
“Studies show that nurses who work in supportive environments that prioritize nursing resources and minimum staffing standards experience better job satisfaction,” Harrington said. “They experience less illness and injury, less emotional exhaustion, burnout, and moral injury, and are less likely to want to leave their jobs. This was always at the heart of our fight and we are incredibly proud of what we have accomplished in these negotiations.”
“This has been an incredibly difficult process,” said John Nangle, RN, a member of the bargaining team. “Nurses were 1000% ready to go on strike if we did not get a fair contract. We never wanted to. We never sought to go on strike, but we were prepared to do so to protect our community and our colleagues. This agreement does that, and I am grateful a strike is no longer necessary.”
Community support was critical to the success of these negotiations. “We could not have done it without the people of Bend and people throughout Central Oregon,” said Harrington. “We want to thank our union siblings from the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, the Bend Education Association, the Firefighters, the Bend Police, Representative Jason Knopf, the Bend Mayor and City Council, and the hundreds and hundreds of our friends and neighbors who have stood up for nurses and for patient safety. This is as much your victory as it is ours.”
Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, ONA’s national union, said in a statement to nurses this morning: “This is a historic contract for a historic time. Your tenacity and dedication, both to your patients and yourselves, is truly remarkable. Thank you for holding the line, and for maintaining your integrity, during this extremely difficult negotiation process. This is a victory for each and every nurse at St. Charles, but more than that it is a victory for every nurse and patient in Bend, in Oregon and across the nation! Congratulations on achieving this historic tentative agreement – it is well earned and I and the 1.7 million members of the AFT are so proud to stand with you to achieve the respect, wages, and conditions you and your patients deserve.”
More information will be forthcoming about the contract vote shortly, and additional information on the specific provisions of the contract will be made available after nurse leaders meet with the members of the bargaining unit in the coming days.
The Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) is the state’s largest and most influential nursing organization. We are a professional association and labor union which represents 16,000 nurses and allied health workers throughout the state. Our mission is to advocate for nursing, quality health care and healthy communities. For more information visit: www.OregonRN.org.