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Nurses’ strike at Providence hospitals in Oregon marks latest labor battle

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About 1,800 nurses went on strike at two hospitals. Nurses called for better pay and working conditions, while management says it offered substantial pay increases.

About 1,800 nurses have walked off the job at two Providence hospitals in Oregon, and the strike offers more evidence of the tensions between nursing unions and health systems.

Nurses engaged in a five-day strike at Providence Portland Medical Center, and it’s the first strike in the city of Portland in 22 years. It’s also the first strike ever at Providence Portland Medical Center, officials said. The strike, which began Monday, ended Friday night.

Nurses are also on strike at Providence Seaside Hospital in northern Oregon and home health and hospice nurses have walked off as well.

Before the strike, Providence Portland said the walkout would affect operations and suggested patients with less serious issues should go to other hospitals, while assuring that the hospital would care for those with life-threatening issues. Portland Seaside has rescheduled elective surgeries.

Providence Portland said Tuesday that it had reopened its neonatal intensive care unit, and Providence Seaside had resumed labor and delivery services. Some ambulances have been diverted at Portland, but the hospital is taking patients in the emergency room, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

Nurses say they’re seeking better pay and working conditions, while Providence management has said it has offered substantial pay increases to nurses.

The two sides have been negotiating a new contract since last fall. Talks earlier this month failed to yield an agreement.

The Oregon Nurses Association, which represents the nurses, contends Providence’s pay isn’t competitive with other providers in Oregon.

The union says there aren’t enough nurses on staff, which is hampering patient care. The association says Providence hasn’t committed to safe staffing levels or on plans to help retain nurses. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, has issued a statement backing the union in its bid for a new contract.

Mary Romanaggi, a Seaside nurse, told KOIN-TV that nurses can’t earn enough to find good housing. “I’ve been here 40 years. People can’t find places to live,” she told KOIN.

Conversely, Providence says it offered a $35 million package in the first year of a contract proposal.

The hospitals offered raises of 11%-12% in the first year of the pact, with additional bumps of 3% in the second and third years of the contract. Providence also offered bonuses of $2,500 and additional paid time off. Providence also said the average full-time salaries for nurses at the hospitals exceeds $100,000.

While the strike is slated to end Friday, it’s not clear when the nurses and management will resolve the dispute. A Providence Portland spokesperson told Oregon Public Broadcasting that the contract offers were contingent on the nurses staying on the job.

Nurses and hospitals have clashed more often in recent months. At the beginning of the year, thousands of nurses in New York went on strike before coming to an agreement on a contract.

Industry experts say they expect to see more nursing strikes this year, with nurses pushing for better pay and improved staffing.

Nurses have said that better staffing is a key issue in their push for new contracts, and nurses aren’t simply looking for higher pay, Jill Lashay, a healthcare attorney at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, told Chief Healthcare Executive® in January.

“Staffing is as big an issue, if not more, than wages, in many instances,” Lashay said.

Many hospitals have said recruiting and retaining nurses and other key healthcare workers has been difficult since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many hospitals saw expenses outpace revenues in 2022, and some are still operating on razor-thin margins, industry analysts say.


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