Nurses and hospital leaders at St. Charles Health System in Central Oregon hammered out a tentative new working agreement over the weekend.

The two sides have agreed to a 4 1/2 year contract that limits the number of nursing jobs that can float between hospital departments.

It also creates a shared governance structure — so concerns can be addressed quicker.

Oregon Nurses Association spokesman Kevin Mealy said the union and hospital administrators also agreed to cost-of-living increases between 2 and 4 percent per year, depending on the economy.

“So as the cost of living goes up in Central Oregon, which is an expensive area to live, nurses’ wages will go up a little more,” he said. “If the cost of living stays flat or goes down, nurses will make a little less. So it’s a nice way of providing some financial flexibility.” 
 
The union represents nearly 900 registered nurses at St. Charles hospitals.

Nurses still need to ratify the agreement. A date hasn’t been set for the vote, but it’s expected to happen in two or three weeks.

“This agreement is a win for our community’s health,” said local nurse leader and ONA bargaining unit chair David Hilderbrand.

“I’m very proud of nurses and hospital administrators who came together to reach an agreement that puts patients first and gives us new tools to address shared concerns like staffing and practice standards. We have more work to do, but this is a promising step in our shared efforts to make sure high-quality, affordable health care is available to everyone in Central Oregon.”

The two sides have been trying to reach an agreement since June.  The breakthrough means an informational picket by union members, scheduled for Jan. 21, will no longer take place.