The Oregon Nurses Association announced that nearly 1,000 frontline nurses at St. Charles in Bend are beginning a strike authorization vote Tuesday, with leaders saying they’ve been left with no choice. ONA cites unfair labor practices and concerns about patient safety due to understaffing.
If the May 16-21 vote passes, it means nurse leaders would be authorized to call for a strike, ONA said. Results would be announced on May 25.
If a strike is authorized, ONA says it will give St. Charles at least 10 days notice prior to a walkout. That would give St. Charles time to bring in traveling nurses.
“St. Charles executives declared a crisis last July but nothing has changed for our patients,” ONA’s St. Charles Bend bargaining team chair Erin Harrington said in a statement. “They’re still stuck with blocked beds, canceled surgeries, and long wait times in the ER. As Bend continues to grow, our staff needs to grow too. We need the hospital to recruit, retain and respect nurses so we can care for our community.”
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St. Charles provided a statement in response, saying a strike is not imminent and it hopes to reach a contract agreement soon.
“We agree with the ONA about the importance of retaining and recruiting health care professionals and are happy to report that despite a national shortage of nurses we have been making significant progress,” St. Charles Senior Nursing Leader and bargaining team member Julie Ostrom said in a statement.
The nurses have been working without a contract since Dec. 31. They have been calling for increased pay for nurses and have claimed that the hospital has more than 300 vacant positions as of March 21. The ONA also claims union nurses were spied upon while on their own time.
St. Charles recently provided a pay bump of $5, bringing the minimum wage for nurses to more than $95,000. The hospital says the average wage for nurses is at $108,000 — claiming that makes St. Charles wages the second highest in the state.
The hospital also stated in April that it reduced that number of vacancies to 80. St. Charles also denied the allegations of spying on union nurses.
You can read the statement’s about the vote from ONA and St. Charles below.
Oregon Nurses Association Statement
Frontline nurses are opening a strike vote against St. Charles Bend–Oregon’s largest hospital east of the Cascades. Nurses are voting to protect their community’s health and safety, protest St. Charles’ illegal unfair labor practices and fix St. Charles’ growing staffing crisis.
The vote will run from May 16 – 21. If passed, nurse leaders are authorized to call for a strike. The nearly 1,000 frontline nurses at St. Charles Bend are represented by the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA).
Local nurses have been meeting with St. Charles’ executives for more than 5 months to try to reach a fair contract agreement that addresses the hospital’s nurse staffing crisis, raises safety standards, increases recruitment and retention of skilled caregivers, and ensures all Central Oregonians have access to safe, affordable health care.
“St. Charles executives declared a crisis last July but nothing has changed for our patients. They’re still stuck with blocked beds, canceled surgeries, and long wait times in the ER. As Bend continues to grow, our staff needs to grow too. We need the hospital to recruit, retain and respect nurses so we can care for our community,” said Erin Harrington, a local nurse and chair of ONA’s bargaining team at St. Charles Bend. “Today, St. Charles is leaving us no choice but to vote to strike. We’ve met them halfway but they’ve refused to compromise. Nurses know our patients and our community deserve better. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
Nurses are not the only ones calling out staffing and safety problems at St. Charles Bend.
- Hospital executives privately declared a staffing emergency at St. Charles‘ facilities because of its severe nursing shortage in July 2022.
- The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) cited St. Charles Bend for failing to comply with Oregon’s hospital safe staffing law in 2017, 2021, and 2022.
- The hospital currently faces 10 state staffing complaints.
- OSHA recently fined the hospital for serious safety violations.
St. Charles’ chronic unsafe staffing is directly linked to its failures to recruit, retain and respect frontline nurses. Since 2018, nearly 60% of registered nurses at St. Charles Bend resigned. St. Charles Bend has more than 300 vacant nursing positions as of March 21, 2023 per hospital data.
Decades of research and real-life experience confirm a lack of nurses harms community health and leads to longer wait times and hospital stays, higher costs, more patient infections and injuries, more readmissions and more preventable deaths.
St. Charles Bend is also under investigation for multiple unfair labor practices including spying on union nurses during nurses’ personal time, refusing to provide information about its multimillion dollar contracts with outside staffing agencies, and bad faith bargaining.
“The nurses we count on to save our lives are overworked, understaffed and undervalued by St. Charles’ executives. That should set off clanging alarm bells in this community,” said ONA President Tamie Cline. “Executives at St. Charles have ignored repeated warnings about its staffing crisis. Now it’s endangering patients and putting an entire community’s health at risk. Nurses have no choice but to take action to protect their community. They have ONA’s full support as they fight to make their hometown hospital safe.”
Nurses are currently working without a contract after the previous agreement expired Dec. 31, 2022. Contract provisions remain in effect while the parties are engaged in negotiations.
St. Charles Health System statement
We continue to bargain in good faith with ONA and look forward to the six upcoming bargaining dates set through June. The ONA vote does not mean a strike will occur and our hope is to reach a contract agreement in the coming weeks. We have also proactively asked a federal mediator to join us for sessions in July and August and hope the ONA will agree to mediation if we are unable to reach an agreement by the end of June.
During our most recent bargaining session, we asked the ONA team about its strike plans and were assured that taking a strike vote is a standard part of their negotiation strategy. They told us they remain committed to reaching an agreement at the bargaining table.
We agree with the ONA about the importance of retaining and recruiting health care professionals and are happy to report that despite a national shortage of nurses we have been making significant progress. For instance, turnover among Bend nursing staff is declining, and in 2022 St. Charles Bend reported its lowest turnover rate among nursing staff in the past three years. While we have made significant progress in this area, we believe that ONA’s strike tactics, including the strike authorization vote, are inconsistent with our shared goal to recruit and retain quality nursing staff and could be detrimental to that effort.
In addition, a recent $5 hourly wage increase for all bedside nurses puts St. Charles wages among the highest in the state (for an average annual full-time base salary of $108,000 a year, not including premium and overtime pay). ONA’s data analyst confirmed in recent bargaining that our nurses are currently among the highest paid in the state.