Hundreds of health care workers at PeaceHealth were joined on the picket lines today by a national union leader as the strike at Vancouver’s hospital entered its fourth day.
The crowd at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center turned into a choir on Thursday afternoon as workers sang along to hits like Michael Jackson’s “Beat it” and Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” before speakers took to the stage.
Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers, a national union that represents teachers, federal, state and local government employees and other health care professionals, spoke at Thursday afternoon’s rally outside the hospital at 92nd Avenue and Mill Plain Boulevard in central Vancouver.
“Look at these workers, look in their eyes. I’m their national union leader and by showing up, they know that I, and AFT, have their back,” Weingarten said. “The fight is scary, and these health care workers are contorting themselves to do the work — they expect and deserve respect.”
The strike at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center and PeaceHealth St. John in Longview is scheduled to end at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. Health care workers are striking over what the union describes as low wages, low staffing levels and prolonged contract negotiations with PeaceHealth management.
The striking workers are part of Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals Local 5017, which is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. A bargaining session for the unit at PeaceHealth St. John in Longview is set to resume on Monday. For the service and maintenance unit at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, bargaining will resume on Tuesday and Nov. 7 for the technicians unit.
Weingarten led the rally alongside Oregon AFL-CIO President Graham Trainor, OFNHP union President Jonathon Baker and state Rep. Travis Nelson.
“We’re in one of the biggest fights of our lives. After the dedication we gave to our patients during COVID, when we often did not have PPE and we could have transmitted the virus back to our families, we did not falter. All we’re asking for is respect,” said Baker.
The union, which represents more than 1,300 respiratory therapists, radiology technicians and maintenance workers, gave administration a 10-day notice for a strike Oct. 13, with picketing planned at both Vancouver and Longview. Health care workers began striking Monday morning.
This strike does not include doctors or nurses. All hospitals and facilities are open, but PeaceHealth has said patients should plan extra time for appointments due to possible congestion at the medical center. PeaceHealth said on its website it will continue “delivering the same safe, high-quality care our patients and families expect from us.”
“We’re asking people to give it a little more time if they have an appointment scheduled,” Michelle James, senior vice president for patient care services and chief nursing officer for Vancouver-based PeaceHealth, said earlier this week. “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.”
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.
On Monday, David Keepnews, executive director of Washington State Nurses Association, issued a statement announcing his support for health care workers at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver.
“The Washington State Nurses Association stands in solidarity with striking workers at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center and PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center,” Keepnews said. “Registered nurses in these facilities, represented by WSNA, understand the high value of the work striking health care workers do, and we support OFNHP’s reasonable demands in negotiations.”