A union representing more than 150 Central Oregon health care workers filed notice of a strike on Monday morning.
An organizer for the bargaining unit of medical technologists, therapists and technicians said the workers will walk out in 10 days if St. Charles Health System doesn’t return to the bargaining table with acceptable terms. The Bend hospital responded defiantly in a press release Monday afternoon, stating St. Charles would cancel plans to negotiate before the notice is up, “to direct its time to strike preparation.”
The move heats up labor negotiations that began more than a year ago, and have been stalled since early December, when Central Oregon’s only hospital system offered a first contract to negotiators with the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.
The union represents a wide array of medical technical positions in Bend, including 37 respiratory therapists and others who treat COVID-19 patients.
Over the weekend, 94% of the bargaining unit’s membership agreed to move ahead with a strike, according to labor organizer Sam Potter.
“We were driven to do this by the hospital,” he said. “Our members have been waiting for and fighting for fair pay and a fair contract. We’ve waited long enough.”
The dispute hinges largely on wage structures and cost of living increases, with some longtime medical technical workers saying their pay has dropped relative to the cost of living in the Bend area.
President of St. Charles Bend and Redmond Aaron Adams responded in a press release, stating the strike notice “adds new and unnecessary challenges when our community needs us most.”
The release walks back an offer to meet with union negotiators and a mediator in early March.
“St. Charles will now be required to direct its time to strike preparation rather than negotiations and will be unable to meet during the notice period,” Adams wrote.
The release goes on to accuse OFNHP of “bargaining in bad faith – and in doing so jeopardizing the patients in our community. The health system plans to file an unfair labor practice charge of bad faith bargaining with the National Labor Relations Board so that these concerns can be fully addressed.”
The union filed its notice of strike with the National Labor Relations Board. Federal labor law requires health care workers give notice before stopping work. The strike would start March 4 if it’s not averted before then by a deal.