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News / Business / Clark County Business

PeaceHealth nurses announce plan to picket outside hospital April 18

Nurse representative says going on strike isn’t off the table

By Chrissy Booker, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 10, 2024, 4:44pm

Nurses at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver will picket outside the hospital April 18.

Employees represented by the Washington State Nurses Association will picket 6-9 a.m. and 4-7 p.m. at 400 N.E. Mother Joseph Place.

The bargaining unit, which includes 1,465 nurses, is negotiating with the hospital for a new three-year contract. According to a news release from the union, “management has not agreed to the association’s proposed workplace protections, staffing commitments or market-rate wages.”

PeaceHealth countered that its proposals have been “highly competitive.”

“They would provide competitive wage increases, benefits and other incentives for our caregivers,” PeaceHealth communications specialist Michelle Gisby said in an email.

An informational picket differs from a strike; nurses will not stop working but rather will join the picket line during a break or when they have time.

However, nurse representative Travis Nelson said that could change without progress.

“A strike is not off the table. Nurses do not want to have to do that, but if we don’t start seeing more movement at the bargaining table, we will start to go down that road,” Nelson said. “The bottom line for us is we want to ensure that nurses are able to safely care for patients, and we continue to have discussions with the hospital about that.”

The next bargaining session between the union and PeaceHealth is scheduled for April 23.

Gisby said patients and their families will still have access to care during the informational picket.

“We always respect our caregivers’ right to participate in activities such as informational picketing,” Gisby said in an email. “We look forward to re-engaging in constructive, good faith bargaining to reach an agreement for our caregivers that is fair, competitive and sustainable for our medical center and our community.”

According to Nelson, the union is considering a vote of no confidence in PeaceHealth — a vote in which members of the union would indicate they do not support hospital management.

“We want you to know that this is something that (the Washington State Nurses Association) is considering; however, a move like a vote of no confidence is typically a last resort,” according to a statement from the union. “We also want to give management a chance to respond at the bargaining table after they see the strength of our support at the picket.”

Last year, PeaceHealth employees organized multiple strikes across Washington and Oregon.

In October, more than 1,300 health care workers represented by the Oregon Federation of Nurse and Health Professionals at PeaceHealth Southwest and PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center in Longview went on strike over what they said were staff shortages and low wages. On Feb. 12, PeaceHealth Home Care and Hospice Nurses in Springfield, Ore., went on strike, citing a decline in wages and benefits.

The U.S. Labor Department reported that the country saw the highest number of strikes in the last two decades. Of the 33 major strikes, half were in health care.

“Nurses want to see some enforceable safeguards around nurse-to-patient ratios and staffing plans in their contract,” said Kelly Skahan, the Washington State Nurses Association’s lead negotiator. “We’re asking PeaceHealth to commit to standards that help us keep nurses on the job in Vancouver.”

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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.