After months of negotiations and multiple sessions with a mediator, nurses at Oregon Health and Science University have voted near-unanimously to authorize a strike.
The Oregon Nurses Association represents more than 3,000 nurses at OHSU. The vote was 95% in favor of strike authorization, with 96% nurse turnout.
The union is required to give OHSU 10 days’ notice before calling a strike. That notice could come as soon as this week: The nurses’ contract expired June 30, and the two sides have completed a required 30-day cooling off period after declaring an impasse in August.
In a statement, OHSU spokeswoman Sara Hottman said the hospital values its partnership with the nurses union. The two sides are continuing to meet with each other and a mediator.
“OHSU takes seriously the possibility of a strike and it is our hope that such an event can be avoided,” she said.
At an ONA rally announcing the vote results Monday, members of the negotiating team accused the hospital’s leadership of taking generous raises while neglecting frontline workers and problems with patient care.
“No matter what it looks like on the outside, OHSU’s crises are real,” said Duncan Zevetski, a member of the bargaining team and OHSU oncology nurse. “We think our patients deserve better than hallway beds, understaffed units and overworked nurses.”
The high rates paid to temporary travel nurses, often making double or more the amount of the staff nurses working alongside them, has frustrated many nurses and encouraged them to push harder for wage increases.
About 4,000 Kaiser Permenente health care workers voted last week to authorize a strike while continuing their contract negotiations this week. Providence nurses went on strike for five days in June, and that month St. Charles’ nurses reached an agreement shortly before a strike was set to start.
The combined system would have more than 32,000 employees across 10 hospitals and would be the largest employer in the Portland metro area.
A mention of the merger met with boos from the crowd at ONA’s press conference Monday.
The nurses’ union has asked for the option to re-open negotiations depending on how that merger moves forward, a condition the union says OHSU has not agreed to.
Beyond questions about the merger, OHSU administrators and the ONA negotiators disagree on a broad range of issues.
The union is pushing for higher pay, the right to review outside labor contracts and OHSU reimbursement to nurses who wish to take an in-person self defense class.
ONA is also asking for a dedicated “break nurse” who can take over patient care to ensure nurses get to take their legally required breaks for lunch, or in the case of new mothers, for lactation.
OHSU said its most recent offer included across the board pay increases and the highest average wages in the state, a ratification bonus of up to $10,000, and a $10 million minimum investment in workplace safety.
ONA and OHSU’s most recent proposals are available here.