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News / Business / Clark County Business

Washington nurses union files unfair labor practice charge against PeaceHealth

Washington State Nurses Association says officials not bargaining in good faith

By Chrissy Booker, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 10, 2024, 3:50pm

The Washington State Nurses Association has filed an unfair labor practice charge against PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center on behalf of the 1,465 nurses the union represents at the Vancouver hospital.

The union filed the charge April 24, alleging PeaceHealth violated the National Labor Relations Act by interfering with employee rights and engaging in bad faith bargaining. A PeaceHealth official said the accusation lacks merit. The National Labor Relations Board will investigate the claim.

The union also said PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center has “disparaged the union and its members in communication and threatened employees who wear union T-shirts and insignia.”

“WSNA regularly uses unfair labor practice charges to protect its members’ rights under federal law. (The) charges are one of the tools we use to hold employers accountable when we believe they’ve violated the law or their contract with our nurses,” Kelly Skahan, labor counsel for the Washington State Nurses Association, said in an email to The Columbian.

Skahan said if the National Labor Relations Board finds merit in the union’s complaint, the agency could try to negotiate a settlement with PeaceHealth or hold a hearing in front of an administrative law judge.

“Our pledge throughout these negotiations has been to bargain in good faith to reach a mutually acceptable agreement that is fair and competitive for our nurses and sustainable for the hospital,” PeaceHealth spokeswoman Debra Carnes said in an email. “Regarding the union’s allegations, PeaceHealth does not believe they have any merit and looks forward to resolving them through the NLRB’s established process.”

Recent picket

Just three weeks ago, hundreds of PeaceHealth employees represented by the union engaged in an informational picket outside of the hospital. An informational picket differs from a strike. Nurses on the picket line April 18 were off-duty or joined the picket line during breaks.

Nurses were joined at the rally by local officials, including Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, state Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, and state Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver.

Bargaining between the union and PeaceHealth began four months ago after the nurses’ previous contract expired Feb. 28. The next bargaining session with a federal mediator is Monday.

Skahan said the union is assessing all of its options as bargaining continues, including a strike, but that is not the goal.

“We would much rather see nurses on the job, safe and fairly paid than on strike, but we need management to do its part to keep these nurses at work in Vancouver,” she said.

According to a statement from the union, parties remain far apart on such issues as wages, sick leave and pay equity for home health and hospice nurses.

Over the past year, PeaceHealth workers across the region have gone on strike amid contract negotiations.

In July, lab techs represented by the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals picketed over staffing and low wages outside PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center in Longview.

In October, about 1,300 health care workers represented by the Oregon Federation of Nurse and Health Professionals at PeaceHealth Southwest and St. John went on strike.

On Feb. 12, PeaceHealth Home Care and Hospice Nurses in Springfield, Ore., also went on strike, citing a decline in wages and benefits.

“We have taken great care to listen to and consider every proposal that has been submitted by WSNA’s bargaining team,” Carnes said. “We look forward to … making progress towards an agreement that respects our nurses and their profession and also meets the medical center’s commitment of caring for our community.”

Community Funded Journalism logo

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.