Nearly all the nurses at St. Charles Health System—Central Oregon's largest health care provider—voted to endorse an informational picket if they can't agree with their employer on a tentative work agreement before Jan. 21.
According to Lydia Hallay, an organizer for the Oregon Nurses Association—representing nurses throughout Oregon—there are currently only two more scheduled days of mediation between St. Charles and the ONA left to reach an agreement. If they don't make an agreement, Hallay said the informational picket will take place on the sidewalk outside the hospital on Neff Road on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday, Jan. 21.
- Oregon Nurses Association
- Local nurses call on St. Charles executives to reach a fair contract agreement that improves patient care and ensures safe staffing standards throughout the hospital during a rally in Sept. 2018.
Kevin Mealy, communications director for ONA, said during an informational picket, nurses continue to work their regular shifts and only participate during their personal time.
"An informational picket is different from a strike or work stoppage," Mealy said in an email. "It's a peaceful public rally that gives nurses the opportunity to share some of the issues going on inside the hospital and talk with community members about how negotiations affect local health care."
Mealy said the picket comes after months of failed negotiations between St. Charles and ONA. ONA representatives said they're fighting for safe and appropriate staffing, a unit practice committee, fair wages and affordable health insurance, and said that St. Charles is proposing language in the Managements Rights article in the contract that's under dispute. The language, according to the ONA, would limit the nurses' ability to advocate for the profession and patient care, and to protect themselves from their employer.
According to a bargaining unit newsletter from the ONA, shared with the Source, St. Charles is proposing rate hikes for insurance for its employees. For a Health Savings Account, St. Charles employees currently pay $104.05 for a family every two weeks. Under the proposal, the cost will rise to $151.81. For a Preferred Provider Organization, the current cost is $187.74 for a family every two weeks. That cost will go up to $246.81 under St. Charles' proposal.
St. Charles said in a press release Jan. 8 that both sides have been negotiating a three-year contract since early June. The bargaining teams have met 24 times since then, and according to St. Charles, nearly all contract language related to nurse staffing has been agreed upon. The outstanding issues include wages, benefits, the grievance process and unit practice committees.
"We respect our nurses and their right to hold this informational picket," St. Charles Bend President Aaron Adams said in the release. "While we have made much progress on the contract over the past six months, we have not yet reached a final agreement. We look forward to meeting again at the bargaining table later this week."
"Nurses are standing up to protect our patients' safety and make sure our community has a say in what happens inside their local hospital," Angie Streeter, a nurse at St. Charles Bend and ONA leader said in a press release. "Our patients deserve safe health care every time. We can't keep waiting for St. Charles corporate executives to fix the problems they've caused. Our community deserves better."
According to Glassdoor, a job-finding site, the average wage for a registered nurse in Bend is $70,482 per year. In Portland, the average wage is $94,440. Bend's cost of living index is 134 and Portland's is 147.8, according to information from Bestplaces.com. The index is based on an average of 100, where scores above mean a higher-than-average cost of living. Housing costs are the biggest factor in both cities.