Nurses rally community support ahead of federal mediation this week

Approximately 140 people attended the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) sponsored community meeting at the Florence Senior Center April 4 to support Peace Harbor Medical Center nurses in ongoing contract negotiations with PeaceHealth Medical Group.

Area residents and nurses from as far away as Oregon Health and Science University in Portland joined with local nurses and ONA representatives to hear updates on the failed contract negotiations.

ONA labor representative Gary Aguiar said, “The community support at Tuesday’s meeting was terrific. Far more attended than we expected. We had to open up the partition to the next room to get more space. We ran out of chairs and parking spaces.”

The meeting was held after the last negotiation sessions between nurses and PeaceHealth representatives failed to reach an agreement Feb. 27 and 28.

Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service is set to begin mediation between ONA and PeaceHealth Monday, April 10.

The nurse’s contract with PeaceHealth Peace Harbor Medical Center expired Dec. 31, and was extended until Jan. 31. The nurses are currently working without a contract.

ONA and PeaceHealth have been negotiating since last December to try and agree on a new contract.

ONA negotiator and Peace Harbor Registered Nurse Elaine Beers has been a nurse for 42 years, with 26 years at Peace Harbor.

She said, “I have been on negotiation committees for 35 of those 42 years. In those 35 years, this particular session has been the most odd of any ever, because there is no communication.”

According to Beers, when ONA made proposals, there was no feedback from PeaceHealth negotiation representative Vice President Labor and Caregiver Relations Debra Miller.

“When she was questioned as to when we could expect a response, Miller would say, ‘We reject them. That is our response.’ Any attempts to get some specifics are again met with, ‘We reject them,’” Beers said.

Miller would not comment, but a statement released by PeaceHealth said, “We are bargaining in good faith as we value our RNs and all of our caregivers. Overall, we are very disappointed that the ONA is taking a negative approach to negotiations. This is not productive and does not help move our discussions forward in a collaborative manner.”

Beers compared the current nurse contract negotiations to the ongoing doctor shortage at Peace Harbor.

“Think about not having any nurses as well,” she said.

Beers said that the community has supported the hospital and now it is time for the hospital to support the community.

She said that there were many issues still on the table, but the four critical issues were wages, insurance, security and lengthy on call requirements.

According to Aguiar, Peace Harbor nurses’ wages are as much as 4.6 percent below those paid at the PeaceHealth Sacred Heart RiverBend Hospital in Springfield.

PeaceHealth Strategic Communications and Engagement Director Marcy Marshall said, “When we reach agreement, we anticipate wages that will be market competitive. There may be some nuisances with the Sacred Heart RN contract and the timing of wage increases; however, we do not anticipate any significant differences.”

Beers said because of the last change in PeaceHealth’s health insurance policy in 2015, several nurses who had surgery needed to put their co-pay on a payment plan because it was so high.

“What is wrong with this picture?” she asked. “A health care facility that doesn’t offer decent health insurance to its workers.”

Security has also been a concern to the nurses.

According to Aguiar, it is standard practice for PeaceHealth hospitals to have seven days a week, 24-hour trained security guards. He said Peace Harbor has 24-hour security on weekends and holidays, but only 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. security during the week.

“This has only been since September. ONA helped to push this into existence. It is not in the contract and therefore is subject to cancellation,” Beers added.

The final area of major contention between the nurses and PeaceHealth, according to Beers, is the current on-call requirements.

“The operating room nurses and the home health/hospice nurses work all day, then are on call for 12-14 hours and are required to report to work the next morning,” Beers said.

The PeaceHealth statement further said, “Our hope is that we come to an agreement so that we can fully focus on delivering care to our patients while assuring all of our nurses are receiving fair and equitable compensation and benefits consistent with their market. I would say, we are hopeful that the mediator will help resolve these outstanding issues.”

Approximately 20 of Peace Harbor’s 75 nurses attended the Tuesday meeting. Aguiar had them stand and then asked a series of questions.

He first asked all nurses who were planning to retire within the next five years to sit down. Next, he asked the nurses who planned to leave the area if a fair contract could not be signed to sit. Two nurses remained standing.

Both Aguiar and Beers said local Peace Harbor administration had been very supportive of the nurses and that the negotiating problems were with PeaceHealth corporate representatives from Vancouver, Wash.

Federal mediation will begin Monday in Florence as a mediator attempts to find common ground for Peace Harbor and the local nurses.

Aguiar said, “We remain hopeful that Monday we will reach a suitable agreement with our employer on a contract that we can recommend to our membership for ratification. If not, our bargaining team, in concert with nurse leaders, will assess where our bargaining unit is. We will gauge whether nurses on the floors are willing to escalate further. We will not make any decisions until after Monday’s mediation.”

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