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News / Health / Clark County Health

Five-day health care worker strike begins at PeaceHealth in Vancouver; second health care picket this month

By Chrissy Booker, Columbian staff writer, and
Amy Libby, Columbian Web Editor
Published: October 23, 2023, 10:50am

Striking health care workers at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center crowded the sidewalks along Mill Plain Boulevard in front of the central Vancouver hospital Monday morning, on the picket line before dawn.

Hundreds of health care workers represented by the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals AFT Local 5017, AFL-CIO, lined the sidewalk from Northeast 92nd Avenue stretching for blocks under dim streetlights. Picketers wore matching red shirts, blew whistles and held signs that read “techs are the heart of PeaceHealth.”

Commuters passing on Mill Plain honked in support of the strikers. A few picketers stood in the median between the east- and westbound lanes.

The union, which represents more than 1,300 respiratory therapists, radiology technicians and maintenance workers at PeaceHealth Southwest and PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center in Longview, gave administration a 10-day notice for a strike Oct. 13, with picketing planned at both locations. 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 union said workers will strike for five days, returning to work at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. Bargaining and negotiations are still on pause.

9 Photos
Health care workers on strike hold signs Monday, Oct. 23, 2023, at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center. Members of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals are striking for five days over low wages, low staffing levels and prolonged contract negotiations with PeaceHealth management.
Health care workers strike at PeaceHealth Photo Gallery

Michelle James, senior vice president for patient care services and chief nursing officer for Vancouver-based PeaceHealth, said the two hospitals will continue operations during the strike and prioritize safe patient care.

This strike does not include doctors or nurses. All hospitals and facilities will remain open, but patients should plan extra time for appointments due to possible congestion at the medical center.

“We’re asking people to give it a little more time if they have an appointment scheduled,” James said. “After the five-day strike, we’re going to welcome our caregivers back with open arms and we want to get back to the bargaining table.”

Shawna Ross, sonographer at PeaceHealth Southwest and union representative, took to the picket line Monday morning.

“Our biggest ask is safe staffing. We are tired — a lot of us are at the end of our careers,” said Ross, who has worked at PeaceHealth for 28 years. “All we want to do is provide safe care for our patients and still be respected.”

On Oct. 17, union members said they could lose their health insurance if the strike carries into November, which PeaceHealth spokesperson Debra Carnes said is “standard practice that applies to any caregiver (union represented or not) who chooses not to work.”

Members of Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals AFT Local 5017 are striking over what they say are low wages, low staffing levels and what the union described as prolonged contract negotiations with PeaceHealth management.

As of Monday, PeaceHealth said it has “offered multiple highly competitive proposals across three contracts that address in some way virtually every one of the issues OFNHP told us were important to caregivers.”

According to the bargaining proposal on the PeaceHealth website, it is offering an average of a 17.1 percent pay increase for tech professionals over the life of the contract, and an average of a 16.7 percent pay increase for service professionals. PeaceHealth also proposed that caregivers make a minimum of $17 an hour.

OFNHP AFT Local 5017 members are the second group of employees to strike this month, after Kaiser Permanente workers picketed outside of Cascade Park Medical Office Oct. 4-6, which was part of the largest health care strike in U.S. history.

Recently, the health care industry has been largely affected by strike activity. From the start of 2022 to September, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 42 work stoppages of 1,000 or more strikers — a third of those strikes were in health care.

PeaceHealth is a not-for-profit Catholic health system offering care to communities in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. PeaceHealth has approximately 16,000 workers and 10 medical centers in the Northwest. PeaceHealth Southwest has 450 beds and is a Level II trauma center.

In July, PeaceHealth announced plans to close PeaceHealth Memorial Urgent Care facility, 3400 Main St., Vancouver, at the end of September.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.