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May 15, 2021

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PeaceHealth doctors to picket later this month

Action planned outside RiverBend hospital

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SPRINGFIELD, Ore. — Doctors at Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend say they were the first group of U.S. hospitalists to organize by forming a labor union in late 2014.

Now, after more than a year of negotiations with hospital owner PeaceHealth and still no contract, the hospital doctors are staging another first: an informational picket on June 23.

Vancouver-based PeaceHealth respects the doctors’ right to picket, however, “we’re very disappointed,” said Debra Miller, PeaceHealth vice president of labor and caregiver relations. “We would rather the physicians spend that time sitting and meeting with us at the bargaining table rather than engage in informational picketing,” she said.

The planned picket will be for informational purposes. It is not a strike, and the hospital will be open and operating as usual.

Hospitalists supervise patient care in the hospital. Sacred Heart’s hospitalist team includes 30 doctors, two nurse practitioners and three relief doctors, spokeswoman Monique Danziger said. The team is supplemented with locums, or temporary doctors. Sacred Heart is recruiting for seven full-time hospitalists, she said.

The hospitalists union said in a statement that members will picket to draw attention to patient care and safety at RiverBend.

“Contract negotiations have stalled because of PeaceHealth’s unwillingness to allow the hospitalists to practice medicine in the safest manner possible; with reasonable patient loads, and without interference from administrators who do not practice medicine,” the statement said.

Miller, the PeaceHealth labor official, said the two sides have held 24 negotiation sessions in the past 18 months, with help from a mediator with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. “We have made tremendous progress in negotiating this first-time contract,” Miller said. “There are very few issues that are left open.” Issues to be resolved include a requirement that doctors must be part of the union and pay union dues as a condition for employment.

Miller said the union supports the so-called “union security clause,” and PeaceHealth opposes it. PeaceHealth believes it should be the newly hired doctor’s choice whether to join the union, she said.

The hospitalists’ association is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers as Local 6552. The local was formed in October 2014 in response to PeaceHealth’s plans to outsource patient care to a private for-profit agency.

The hospitalists have negotiated with PeaceHealth for a first contract since December 2014.

Last week in Vancouver, the 313 licensed technical professionals at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center voted overwhelmingly to form the PeaceHealth Southwest Caregivers United union.

The union, under the umbrella of the American Federation of Teachers and its Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals affiliate, is seeking better health care benefits and better staffing levels, among other workplace improvements.

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