(Update: Hospital rep denies claims, says negotiations should not happen in press)
Alleges 'union-busting' tactics; says security was called when nurses tried to deliver letter to administration
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – The Oregon Nurses Association said Friday it filed an unfair labor practice charge against St. Charles Health System this week, alleging St. Charles' management illegally spied on nurses during nurses’ personal time. The hospital denied the claims.
The health system provided this statement Friday afternoon in response to the claims:
“Providing safe, quality care is our top priority every day,” said Julie Ostrom, service line administrator for surgical and trauma services and a member of the St. Charles bargaining team. “We are committed to negotiating with our nurses in good faith and believe those negotiations should take place at the bargaining table and not in the press.
"These allegations, along with many assertions in the ONA’s press release, are simply false," Ostrom said. "It is our hope that we can take these conversations back to the bargaining table where they belong, while continuing to support our incredible teams who provide phenomenal, compassionate care.”
Here is the rest of the full news release issued by the ONA Friday morning:
ONA represents more than 16,000 Oregon nurses and allied health workers, including frontline nurses and health workers at multiple St. Charles Health facilities in Central and Eastern Oregon.
On Tuesday, March 21, local nurses held a short, peaceful gathering outside St. Charles Medical Center in Bend. Approximately 70 nurses met on their own time to hand deliver a letter to St. Charles’ corporate executives. The letter was signed by more than 750 nurses at St. Charles Bend and outlined nurses’ priorities in contract negotiations with St. Charles management—including how to improve health care in Central Oregon by retaining, recruiting and respecting frontline nurses.
When nurses walked into the hospital to deliver the letter, St. Charles management barred nurses from entering the hospital’s administrative offices and called security on its own workers.
During nurses’ brief meetup outside the hospital, witnesses saw multiple St. Charles managers exiting the hospital to monitor nurses’ activity. St. Charles managers appeared to be taking photos and video of the nurses in attendance.
St Charles’ off-the-clock surveillance of nurses is a clear violation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRA guarantees workers’ rights to engage in concerted union activity and outlaws companies from spying on workers’ union activities; creating the impression of surveilling workers’ union activities; or from photographing or videotaping workers engaged in peaceful union activities. NLRA violations are called Unfair Labor Practices (ULPs).
ULPs are adjudicated by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which can impose financial and legal penalties on companies which break the law. The National Labor Relations Board is expected to open an investigation into the charge against St. Charles.
“This is union busting—plain and simple. St. Charles’ open surveillance of nurses during their personal time is a scare tactic designed to keep workers walking on eggshells and intimidate them into giving up their right to advocate for patient safety,” said ONA spokesperson Kevin Mealy. “St. Charles is finding out nurses aren’t intimidated by bullies. We know our rights. We’ll defend them and we’ll continue speaking up to let the public know about St. Charles’ staffing crisis and the serious changes it needs to make so nurses can continue providing life-saving care to patients and families in Central Oregon.”
Bend nurses have been negotiating a new contract with St. Charles’ corporate executives since the previous contract expired in December 2022. Nurses’ top priority in negotiations is improving health and safety for our patients by recruiting and retaining the caregivers our community needs.
Since 2018, nearly 60% of nurses at St. Charles Bend have left the hospital and St. Charles has nearly 300 vacant nursing positions. Resolving St. Charles’ staffing crisis is critical to ensure Central Oregonians continue to have access to high-quality health care.
“This is a code red. St. Charles’ staffing crisis didn’t happen overnight and it didn't happen due to COVID-19. St. Charles’ recruitment and retention plans just haven’t worked. For years, we’ve watched skilled nurses walk out the door and they haven’t been replaced,” Mealy said. “That means the nurses left are forced to take on more and more work until they burn out and leave too. It’s not strategic and it’s not safe. Bend’s nurses and patients deserve better.”
Nurses are inviting the community to a rally and informational picket Monday, April 24 from 3:30 - 7:30 p.m. at the intersection of NE Neff Rd. & NE 27th St. outside St. Charles Bend. Nurses, health care workers, elected leaders, allies and interested community members are invited to attend to hear directly from local nurses about staffing and safety issues at the hospital and to show their support for Bend’s frontline nurses and health care workers.
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 more than 16,000 nurses and allied health workers throughout the state, including more than 1,200 frontline nurses and allied health workers at multiple St. Charles Health facilities in Central and Eastern Oregon. ONA’s mission is to advocate for nursing, quality health care and healthy communities. For more information visit: www.OregonRN.org.