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WSNA files ULP charge against PeaceHealth Southwest

The unfair labor practice charge comes after 14 bargaining sessions.

The following is from WSNA:

VANCOUVER, Wash. (May 10, 2024) — After 14 negotiation sessions for a new contract, WSNA filed unfair labor practice charges against PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center on behalf of the 1,465 nurses the association represents at the facility. Nearly four months after bargaining began, the parties remain far apart on core contract issues like wages, sick leave benefits, and workplace violence prevention. Their previous contract expired on Feb. 28, 2024.

The unfair labor practice charge filed April 24, 2024, alleges PeaceHealth Southwest has violated Sections 8(a)(1) and 8(a)(5) of the National Labor Relations Act and by disparaging the union and its members in communication. threatening employees who wear union T-shirts and insignia, and engaging in bad faith bargaining over several issues. The charges will now be investigated by agents for the National Labor Relations Board.

“PeaceHealth Southwest’s nurses have dedicated hundreds of hours of unpaid time to negotiations for this contract,” said Kelly Skahan, Labor Counsel for WSNA and lead negotiator for the nurses’ contract with the Medical Center. “It’s long past time for management to pay them the respect they’re due and bargain in good faith for a fair contract.”

One of the key issues over which PeaceHealth Southwest has refused to compromise is pay equity for home health and hospice nurses in the bargaining unit. The medical center has insisted nurses working in these vital specialties should not receive the same wage increases as their peers in inpatient departments. PeaceHealth’s proposal would put home health and hospice nurses up to 5% behind their coworkers working at the hospital.

“To say that we as home hospice and home care nurses feel devalued and disrespected by PeaceHealth is an understatement,” said Brooke Churchman, a hospice nurse.

Churchman said paying home health and hospice nurses less than hospital-based nurses will leave home health and hospice nurses feeling undervalued and encourage them to seek work elsewhere. Providence’s home health and hospice nurses in the Portland area are typically paid at comparable or higher rates than nurses in its Portland medical centers.

On April 18, more than 1,000 people participated in an informational picket outside the hospital with several community leaders offering support, including Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle

“We are blessed to have you in the city of Vancouver,” she said. “We know how hard it was for you in the pandemic. We know how hard it is for you now. We’re here to support you and defend you.”

Other local officials — State Rep. Monica Stonier (D-Vancouver) and State Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver), chair of the Senate Health and Long-term Care Committee —also voiced their support at the afternoon rally.

“For the past four years we have faced the challenges of an unprecedented pandemic. And you came to work each and every day with a threat to your physical health and a threat to your mental health and yet you persevered,” said Sen. Cleveland. “You were here when families needed you.”

Other big issues remaining:

Safe Staffing – PeaceHealth Southwest nurses often work without breaks and are assigned too many patients. Nurses are fighting for measures that would make safe staffing plans enforceable so that PeaceHealth Southwest nurses don’t have to work short staffed on a regular basis. Meanwhile, starting in June, hospitals in Oregon must comply with statutory minimum nurse-to-patient ratios, which set a maximum number of patients each nurse may be assigned in each patient care unit. Vancouver-area hospitals like PeaceHealth Southwest risk losing nurses to nearby hospitals in Oregon without any changes.

Competitive wages – After demand for skilled registered nurses far outpaced supply during the pandemic, PeaceHealth Southwest’s wage scale failed to keep up with the Portland-area market. The hospital is losing nurses to higher paying positions over the river in Portland and elsewhere in Vancouver.

Sick time – PeaceHealth management has proposed taking away nurses extended sick time banks, which allow nurses to use six shifts’ worth of paid sick time each year during longer absences like COVID isolation periods or after childbirth without draining their general PTO banks. This will force nurses to give up vacation time if they must stay home sick.

Workplace violence prevention – Administration has refused to commit to prioritizing low-cost or no-cost workplace violence prevention initiatives, such as establishing screening protocols to ensure weapons do not enter the hospital, access rules that prevent unauthorized entry into patient care areas, pathways for nurses to formally identify complex or disruptive patients, and policies to protect home health and hospice nurses when they enter patients’ homes.

PeaceHealth is a nonprofit Catholic health system based in Vancouver offering care through ten hospitals and several clinics in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. Facilities in the PeaceHealth system have frequently been sites of labor unrest and the system itself is rated “below average” on the job-finding site Indeed in terms of employee well-being.

The next bargaining session is May 13 with a federal mediator.

See an earlier release for more information on nurse complaints and history of labor unrest at PeaceHealth.

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