By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Reps from the St. Charles nurses union said Monday morning it’s far from business as usual inside the hospital as a medical tech strike enters its fifth day.
Surgeries have been canceled or delayed and the “anxiety in the hospital right now is palpable,” said Joel Hernandez, a registered nurse at St. Charles and part of the hospital’s executive bargaining team for the Oregon Nurses Association.
About 150 medical techs, who voted in 2019 to unionize, went on strike Thursday after a year-long negotiation on a first-year contract stalled.
The group includes x-ray technicians, ultrasound techs, technologists, respiratory therapists, and others.
Hernandez and two other nurses met with the media near the medical techs’ picket line across the street from the hospital.
The nurses have been supportive from the beginning, saying the services provided by the techs are critical to the teamwork needed to provide health care to the community.
“Those frontline caregivers – they show up,” said Neysa Larson, a registered nurse, and ONA member. “They fight. They collaborate. They reach out. They have a strong voice to get you the care you deserve. Sometimes it’s harder than others. We feel that St. Charles could do a better job where it wouldn’t be as stressful, it wouldn’t be as much of a fight.”
St. Charles has contracted with replacement workers, but the nurses say the level of care isn’t close to what the techs were providing.
Hernandez said he’s heard more than one of the replacement workers say “I don’t know what I’m doing, which is very concerning and raises the issue of safety for our community.”
A nurse who spoke to Central Oregon Daily News contradicted that assessment on Friday as well.
But the hospital reiterated their position on Monday saying the “qualified” replacement workers were covering shifts across the hospital and surgeries and procedures were taking place as scheduled.
“The replacement agency we’ve contracted with recruits, interviews and reviews the skills and work history of all candidates submitted to our job actions,” spokeswoman Lisa Goodman said. “All candidates must have recent experience in the specialty they will be fulfilling; all candidates have completed a skills checklist, hold a current/active license or certification and have completed a current background check in addition to a receiving professional reference.”
According to a statement from the hospital, two core issues still remain on the table: compensation and union security.
“The teams have agreed upon wages for the first year of the contract. Under this agreement, the average hourly wage for techs in the bargaining unit will be $41.94 per hour,” the hospital statement said. “This equates to an annual base salary of $87,000 a year for a full-time equivalent position, not including overtime, premium pay, shift differentials and other benefits. However, wages for years two through five of the contract are still being negotiated.”
St. Charles said the union has also requested a closed shop, meaning all St. Charles technical employees’ jobs would be conditional upon joining the union and paying 1.4% of their base wage in dues or paying agency fees and giving up voting rights.
The statement says the hospital wants an open shop in order to give its caregivers a choice on whether they are members of the union.
Meanwhile, St. Charles and the medical techs’ union, the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, have not met in weeks.
They’re scheduled to meet with a federal mediator on Wednesday.
“We’ve not received a return to work notice from the union, which is the first step in the process of bringing our caregivers back to work,” said St. Charles Bend President Aaron Adams.
The nurses say the community needs to stand with the techs, who are not getting paid or covered by insurance during the strike.
“This decision (to strike) was not made lightly, especially in the climate we’re in right now with the pandemic,” he said.