Oregon healthcare affiliate celebrates a string of union victories

This summer, the Oregon Nurses Association experienced a number of successful new union organizing drives across the state, including efforts by nurses at Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital in Lincoln City, and technical professionals at CHI St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton. In August, ONA also worked with the AFT to help bring doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants at PeaceHealth in Eugene under the union tent. 

Nurses at Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital.
Nurses at Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital. Photo courtesy of ONA.

On Aug. 18, healthcare providers from four clinics throughout Eugene, Ore., and operated by PeaceHealth voted to form a union in an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. They are the first clinics to unionize in Lane County. The group of 13 physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, PeaceHealth Providers United, has been organizing, with guidance from the AFT, for the past year. 

“Despite opposition from the administration, we remain united in our endeavor. ... I look forward to a truly collaborative and transparent relationship with PeaceHealth and a return to our full capacity as a clinic,” said Dr. Morgan Garvin. 

PHPU will focus its collective bargaining power on addressing burnout, understaffing, safe patient care and access to care for the region’s most vulnerable patients. “This is an important step forward. We came together to support each other to achieve a safe, fair and balanced work environment,” said Wendy Lang, a nurse practitioner. “We want fair pay, and reasonable workloads that allow us to provide high-quality medical care while also maintaining our individual health and well-being.” 

“Forming a union provides us the opportunity to better advocate for our patients and ourselves. It’s exciting to work toward a common goal and see progress. I am very much looking forward to what more we can accomplish for improved care in our community,” said Dr. Kate Swank. 

PHPU will partner with the Pacific Northwest Hospital Medicine Association/AFT, the first hospitalists union in the country, which is represented by the AFT and serviced by ONA.  

Technical professionals at CHI St. Anthony Hospital.
Technical professionals at CHI St. Anthony Hospital. Photo courtesy of ONA.

Nurses want a part in the decision-making 

Moving north to the central coast of Oregon, the nurses at Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital in Lincoln City, Ore., filed with the NLRB on Aug. 22 for union recognition. Samaritan North Lincoln is currently the only Samaritan facility in Oregon whose nurses are not represented by a union. Seventy nurses at the hospital will join the ONA.  

The unionization effort began when nurses started feeling the enormous pressures and stresses of chronic understaffing. Nurses across the hospital report serious issues such as being consistently unable to take legally mandated rest and meal breaks, being disrespected by management, a lack of transparency in management decision-making, and a sense that the hospital is more concerned with profits than with patient care. Finally, the nurses decided to unionize in the hopes of having a greater influence on management decisions through collective bargaining and union representation. 

After their successful election, the nurses will focus their collective bargaining power on addressing burnout, understaffing and safe patient care, and ensuring nurses have a voice in decision-making that affects their working conditions and wages.    

“Decisions are being made at the management level that have a huge impact on nurses, on the way we do our work and on how we deliver care to our patients,” said Kati Carnahan, a registered nurse who works in both the operating room and the post-anesthesia care unit. “I don’t understand why we aren’t invited to be a part of that decision-making process and why those decisions aren’t transparent to the staff. Joining a union will give us a voice at the table, allow us to be a part of those decisions, and let us bring our knowledge and experience to solve problems for the benefit of our patients.” 

PeaceHealth healthcare providers.
PeaceHealth healthcare providers. Photo courtesy of ONA.

On to the bargaining table 

On Aug. 23, 39 healthcare professionals at CHI St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton, Ore., including radiology technologists, respiratory therapists, pharmacy technicians and other workers, overwhelmingly voted to join the ONA. The technical workers cited various reasons for organizing a union, including ensuring safe staffing, providing high-quality care to patients and the community, and pursuing equitable wages.  

Radiology technologists at the hospital earn significantly less than their counterparts in other hospital systems. Respiratory therapists at the hospital say the staffing crisis, working with a skeleton crew, and the inability to take vacation are among the reasons they decided to unionize. Several workers cited ONA-represented nurses’ victories at the hospital, such as retention incentives and patient care improvements, as among the many reasons they decided to join the ONA. With a successful vote, members will now move on to electing a bargaining team, circulating surveys to determine key issues in bargaining with management, and setting bargaining dates to achieve their first contract.  

“This victory is about protecting ourselves and exercising our right to collectively bargain with our employer for fair and equitable wages and safe working conditions, just like our nurses at the hospital do,” said Katie Heath, a radiology technologist at St. Anthony. “We as healthcare workers have the power to change our future and have a voice in the workplace. We have the power to create the work environment our patients, families and community deserve. … We are healthcare workers fighting for the well-being of our community and every patient that comes through our doors. Now onto the bargaining table!” 

“Healthcare workers, technicians, providers and nurses across the state are recognizing the power unions have to impact their working conditions and the quality of care they provide to their patients,” said Anne Tan Piazza, ONA’s executive director. “We are so honored to be representing these professionals and look forward to working hand in hand to give them the voice they deserve in their hospitals and clinics. Their patients, their communities, and the entire state will benefit from these efforts.” 

[Adrienne Coles, ONA press releases]