More than 1,300 health care workers have voted to authorize a strike at PeaceHealth Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver and PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center in Longview.
Last week, members of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals Local 5017 voted to authorize a strike at both locations, following what the union described as prolonged contract negotiations with PeaceHealth management. Union members say management has not bargained in good faith or worked to address issues that affect workers.
In addition, 350 laboratory technicians at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center in Springfield, Ore., part of a separate bargaining unit will decide on their own strike authorization vote soon. The combined efforts of close to 1,700 workers could result in a strike across three hospitals and two states, making it among the largest non-RN strikes in the region’s history.
Health care workers represented by the union include respiratory therapists, laboratory scientists, imaging specialists, patient access representatives and nursing assistants. Now that workers have voted to authorize a strike, members could call to strike once they file a 10-day notice. In a statement from the union local on its website, those considering a strike argue that “they are making far below market rate, and the Vancouver Techs are asking for as much as a 40 percent wage increase over three years simply to make them competitive in the region.”
“Striking is always a last resort, but with these negotiations, it may be necessary to ensure safe staffing, living wages, and a healthy future for patient care at PeaceHealth,” said union President Jonathon Baker. “We have given management ample opportunity to negotiate over these critical issues, yet they have delayed, underwhelmingly responded to the crisis we’re in, and made insulting offers. We’re fighting to improve health care access and protect the communities our members serve; we won’t settle until we accomplish exactly that.”
Debra Carnes, a spokesperson for PeaceHealth, said that while a potential strike is disappointing, PeaceHealth remains “committed to good-faith bargaining in order to reach an agreement.”
“To date we have proposed competitive compensation packages that ensure our pay rates are at or above market rates, and we look forward to making further progress at our next sessions.,” said Carnes. “During this time, PeaceHealth is taking precautionary and responsible steps to ensure we are able to deliver the same safe, high-quality care our patients and families have come to expect should OFNHP choose to strike.”
The PeaceHealth strike vote comes the same day that more than 75,000 health care workers at Kaiser Permanente returned to work after a three-day strike concluded without a resolution. Although the historic strike ended without a new contract, a second, larger strike could begin on Nov. 1, if workers authorize an unfair labor practice strike in a vote set for the end of this week.
The overlap between the two strikes could be representative of a larger, widespread issue that many workers in the health industry claim to be facing, such as low wages and dangerous staffing levels.
Union members are holding an informational picket at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, 400 N.E. Mother Joseph Place, from 5-8 p.m. Wednesday to share workplace experiences.