More than 1,300 healthcare workers from PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver, Wash., and PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center in Longview, Wash., walked off the job and onto a picket line on Oct. 23. The workers will be on strike for five days. Respiratory therapists, radiology techs and maintenance workers in PeaceHealth’s Tech, Service and Maintenance, and Lab Professional bargaining units are members of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, Local 5017. They are demanding improved patient staffing, living wages and a fair contract.
OFNHP President Jonathon Baker, who's also a member of the Lab Professional bargaining unit that voted to strike, made it clear why they've chosen this path: “We have been demanding a change for months, and yet management has ignored us. That is why we are taking action: to win a safe hospital for staff and patients. A strike is a tool that workers use to highlight how important they are and to pressure management to do what’s right, and that is what they are forcing us to do.”
Workers say low wages and short staffing are the primary issues, and some of the units are saying it could require a nearly 40 percent raise in wages over the life of the contract to make their pay competitive for the market.
Union members gave PeaceHealth a 10-day notice of a strike on Oct. 13, after months of fruitless negotiations. When the strike was announced, instead of addressing the issues, management refused to negotiate, canceling all bargaining sessions, offering strikebreaking workers $8,000 a week to cross the picket line, and threatening to cancel the workers’ health insurance.
“Instead of trying to solve these problems, they canceled our bargaining sessions and are choosing to terminate the healthcare insurance that these workers depend on. This is a cruel form of collective punishment directed at a group of healthcare workers they previously called ‘heroes’ when they were saving lives during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Baker.
Workers will picket every day until the strike is over at the end of the week. They will return to work on Oct. 28.
[Adrienne Coles, OFNHP press release]