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News / Business / Clark County Business

PeaceHealth nurses will vote on contract that includes raises but doesn’t increase staffing levels

Union, PeaceHealth reached a tentative agreement last week

By Chrissy Booker, Columbian staff writer
Published: June 5, 2024, 12:02pm

Nurses at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center will vote Thursday on a contract that includes higher wages but does not increase minimum staffing requirements at the Vancouver hospital.

The 1,465 nurses represented by the Washington State Nurses Association reached a tentative agreement May 29 with PeaceHealth after 18 bargaining sessions and an informational picket. However, the hospital would not ensure staffing ratios that would limit the number of patients nurses care for at once, according to Talitha Wilson, a registered nurse and member of the bargaining team.

PeaceHealth spokeswoman Debra Carnes said previously that the union withdrew the proposal on staffing ratios.
“Washington law does not require staffing ratios,” Carnes said Wednesday in an email to The Columbian. “We bargained in good faith to reach an agreement that supports our nurses and their profession by providing competitive pay and benefits while supporting our ability to carry out our sacred mission of caring for those we serve.”

The tentative agreement will give nurses a bigger say in creating staffing plans. Staffing plans must be approved by the nurses on the staffing committee before being sent to the CEO. If the CEO wants to make changes to the plan, by law, the plan goes back to the staffing committee, according to Bobbi Nodell, marketing and communications manager for the union.

“The nurses are getting pay increases, among the highest paid in the state, as well as other great protections,” Nodell said. “They didn’t get everything they wanted, but it’s a very strong contract.”

In April, PeaceHealth nurses participated in an informational picket, demanding safe staffing levels that the union bargaining team said would improve patient safety and decrease burnout.

The Oregon Legislature recently passed a bill that requires one nurse per four patients in medical-surgical units. Certified nursing assistants are assigned to a maximum of seven patients on the day shift and 11 patients on the night shift, according to the bill.

Without similar legislation in Washington, nurses were considering other employment options before an agreement was reached, according to the bargaining team.

Contract details

The tentative agreement includes an average 10.3 percent bump for inpatient nurses after the contract is ratified. Wages across the bargaining unit will increase another 4 percent after March 1, 2025. Home health and hospice nurses will receive average increases of up to 6.5 percent after ratification and another 4 percent March 1, 2025.

The tentative agreement also supports policies around safety and workplace violence for nurses assaulted on the job. Nurses will keep earned sick leave banks, which cover time off for long-term illnesses.

Nurses working night shifts and those who are floated to a unit outside of their regular assignment will also receive increased premiums, according to a press release from the union.

“These were long and tough negotiations, but thanks to the solidarity shown by the nurses at PeaceHealth Southwest, we emerged with a contract that is good for our members and good for patient care,” said Jeryl Anderson, a negotiating team member. “Our bargaining team and nurse observers sacrificed their days off for nearly five months to show management how much this mattered, and that teamwork helped us weather the storm.”

Unionization efforts in health care have increased across Clark County and the Northwest as workers organize to secure workplace protections, especially in the wake of the pandemic when many nurses said they felt overworked and undervalued.

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., also went on strike, citing a decline in wages and benefits.

The U.S. Labor Department reported that in 2023, the country saw the highest number of strikes in the last two decades. Of the 33 major strikes, half were in health care.

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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.