This story has been updated with a statement from PeaceHealth.
Members of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals staged a rally on Wednesday afternoon at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver. A procession of at least 60 members wearing pro-union red clothing marched through the hospital’s main lobby and across the campus.
The Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals union is the Local 5017 chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. It represents nurses, technology workers and other health care service and support staff in Oregon and Southwest Washington.
Union officials said Wednesday’s rally was held in support of two bargaining units: the tech unit, which includes about 300 workers, and the service and maintenance unit, which includes about 900. The two units are engaged in separate contract negotiations with PeaceHealth, but have been coordinating their activities as a show of mutual support.
The tech unit has been bargaining since March, according to unit chairman Eric Quinn, who works as a CT technologist at PeaceHealth. He said the last session ended at an impasse and a federal mediator will be brought in for the next session, which is scheduled for Oct. 25.
The tech unit is seeking the creation of a staffing committee to address patient care issues, Quinn said, as well as assurances from PeaceHealth that workers won’t be unreasonably denied time off.
The rally was intended to draw attention to the union’s efforts and gather more community support, Quinn said.
“(Community members) don’t know that our members are tired and on the floors,” he said.
The service unit began bargaining in August and has two more scheduled sessions, according to unit chairwoman Jodi Atteberry, who works as a monitor tech unit coordinator at PeaceHealth.
The service unit is focused on making sure that PeaceHealth maintains safe staffing levels to ensure that workers can take their scheduled breaks, Atteberry said.
She and Quinn said both units are also pushing back against what they describe as a scheduling system in which workers are sometimes dropped from previously assigned shifts, forcing them to use vacation hours to maintain their usual paychecks.
The groups gathered outside the hospital shortly after noon on Wednesday and marched in through the lobby, displaying union signs and rotating through several pro-union chants.
Quinn said the plan had been to march through the hallways of the hospital building, but the procession was intercepted by hospital security staff after ascending the main lobby staircase.
After a brief standoff, the group turned around and marched back out through the lobby and across the hospital campus toward the eastern parking garage, where they briefly gathered for a loud round of cheering.
At that point, multiple hospital security staff and at least one Vancouver Police officer approached the group and told them that they needed to leave the hospital property immediately and could be subject to arrest if they returned.
The group complied and marched out of the garage’s north entrance, then turned right to exit onto the sidewalk along Northeast 92nd Avenue. The march ended at a tent by the sidewalk about a block away, and the group gradually dispersed by about 1 p.m.
PeaceHealth stated that it respects the rights of caregivers to rally, but that it asked the group to move to an appropriate location out of concern for safe patient care and access to the health care facility.
“With our patients at the heart of everything we do, our shared focus remains on providing safe, high-quality and compassionate care to the people in our communities,” a PeaceHealth spokesman wrote in an email on Wednesday evening. “We do look forward to continuing good faith bargaining with the union, and we are committed to reaching an agreement that our Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals-represented caregivers can support, is fair, competitive, and sustainable for our medical center and our community.”