Oregon Nurses Association Imposes Sold-Out Contract at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center

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Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Oregon, 2009 (photo by MO Stevens)

On July 15, the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) announced via Facebook and Twitter the adoption of a new contractual arrangement for nurses at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center outside of Portland. The agreement covers the hospital’s 1,600 nurses.

The contract is largely identical to the one nurses rejected in late June by a margin of more than 4 to 1. It was passed after an ONA advertising campaign that promoted a string of “nurse wins” from the tentative media agreement, the most significant being retroactive pay, a standard aspect of nursing contracts in Providence for decades.

Other ‘gains’ include pay rises well below current inflation of 9% and a contract that only lasts two years, opening the door to further attacks on nurses’ working conditions and living standards. in 2024.

Furthermore, the section dealing with staffing ratios does not indicate what differentiates the new contract from the old one. It simply reiterates that “the medical center will abide by Oregon’s nurse staffing law,” which will not explicitly require Providence to hire more nurses.

And no mention is ever made of the COVID-19 pandemic in a contract for frontline healthcare workers, other than stating: “other than as stated in C2 above and in disaster situations national, state and/or internal crisis (i.e. weather, pandemic) registered nurses will not be required to float outside of their cluster for a primary care assignment of more than 72 hours per calendar year Given that the pandemic is still raging in the United States, nurses will almost certainly have to constantly float outside of their group.

The whole experience shows that the union has not responded by caving in to rank-and-file activism among nurses, determined to fight for secure staffing ratios and better working hours, but by redoubled efforts to impose a pro – business contract. This demonstrates that the only way forward is for nurses to take their struggle out of the hands of union bureaucracy by forming rank-and-file committees to exercise democratic control.

Contracts have also been ratified or are in the process of being voted on in other Providence hospitals. A deal in Willamette Falls passed “overwhelmingly,” according to the ONA, on July 11, and nurses in Milwaukie began voting July 20. ONA is currently in talks with Providence for contracts at other hospitals in the network, including Hood River and St. Alphonsus-Ontario.

The ONA has been fighting a real struggle of nurses against Providence since the start of contract negotiations. Nurses at Providence Medical Centers launched a powerful strike push after the catastrophic experience of the coronavirus pandemic in January and Providence’s complete indifference to the perils nurses faced. In March, the militancy of rank and file nurses to launch a strike had forced the ONA to hold an “information picket”. But the WSWS warned on March 11 that “the ‘information picket’ is an attempt by the union to vent and buy time to reach an agreement with Providence before a strike can be called.”

On May 4, more than 1,600 nurses at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center authorized a strike with a near unanimous vote. But the ONA limited the strike authorization vote to a simple unfair labor practices dispute, which under US labor law bars nurses from raising economic demands. The ONA announced the same day that “if and when a strike is called, the ONA will give Providence 10 days notice to provide Providence management with sufficient time to halt admissions and transfer patients or to reach to a fair deal with the nurses and avoid a work stoppage.”

But no strike was announced. The nurses could have gone on strike at that time to defend not only their livelihoods against low wages, unsustainable staffing ratios and inadequate health care benefits, but also to defend fellow nurse Radonda Vaught, whose wrongful conviction took place on May 13. At that time, the ONA Bargaining Committee offered a meager salary increase and vaguely promised “safe staffing levels.”

A month later, nurses in Providence Willamette Falls and Milwaukie also authorized a strike, setting the stage for powerful joint action across Oregon. Rather than mobilizing these forces, as well as nurses from other hospitals with contracts being negotiated or to come, the ONA announced on June 4 that it had reached an agreement in principle for the nurses of Saint- Vincent and implored the nurses to vote “Yes”. .”

The ONA only floated the idea of ​​a joint strike after the decisive rejection of the June 20-23 St. costs and threaten both nurse and patient safety. At the time, a joint strike by nurses in St. Vincent, Willamette Falls and Milwaukie was announced for July 11.

Rather than use the two-and-a-half weeks to prepare nurses for a strike and rally support from other sections of the working class, the ONA returned to Providence, claiming the strike as a bargaining chip for a better deal. . He then announced in the last week of June a new deal at St. Vincent and other hospitals in Providence, effectively calling off the strike less than a week after his announcement.

“Most nurses vote ‘yes’ because we think that’s the best we can get,” one nurse clearly explained in her comments to the World Socialist website. “Wages will be nowhere near the rate of inflation.” The nurse also noted the lack of actual information provided by the ONA, stating: “I really don’t know the details of what this contract offers in terms of salaries. I don’t know what the union says about that.

The nurse also clarified that the nurses had almost no time to discuss the entire contract with each other. “We got the ONA’s agreement in principle with the link to vote on Wednesday, and the deadline to vote was Friday at 1 p.m.”

“The union representative just dropped off a few fliers with vague highlights about the new TA, and the flier said ‘vote yes’. I tried to ask questions to the union representative, and other nurses too, but it was as if the union did not want to deal with it anymore and the union representative just left.

St. Vincent’s nurses, in the United States and around the world, faced terrible conditions during the global COVID-19 pandemic. The St. Vincent nurse adamantly agreed that the experience of the pandemic has been traumatic for healthcare workers. “About once a month I would see a nurse break down crying from stress, overwork and caring for so many seriously ill patients.”

Reflecting the thoughts and feelings of healthcare workers across the United States, the nurse opened up about the truth: “I am definitely exhausted, bitter towards Providence and looking for a new job. My colleagues feel the same. The immense general health care crisis, unfolding during a still raging global pandemic, has led to a situation where “so many nurses are looking to change careers due to burnout. We are not treated well or paid well.

Andrew B. Reiter