ashland.news
July 18, 2024

Hundreds gather outside Providence Medford on first day of nurses strike

Nurses and nurse supporters rally at Providence Medford Medical Center on Tuesday. Rogue Valley Times photo by Jamie Lusch
June 18, 2024

Strike, called the largest in Oregon history, scheduled to last three days; temp nurses hired to replace strikers for five-day interval

By Nick Morgan, Rogue Valley Times

A crowd of at least 200 picketing nurses and community allies surrounded Providence Medford Medical Center Tuesday as Southern Oregon’s portion of the largest nursing strike in the state’s history kicked off in earnest.

The Medford strike began at 6 a.m. Tuesday with 125 people “on the line,” according to Scott Palmer, chief of staff for the Oregon Nurses Association. As of shortly after 10 a.m., the number had roughly doubled.

“My guess is we’ve doubled that since this morning,” Palmer said. “It’s a great turnout for the first day of the strike.”

Palmer said nurses and other staff had been up well before dawn making last-minute preparations for the strike, such as making sure the nurses have plenty of food and water and plenty of signs.

Medford nurses are among six Providence hospitals across Oregon in a strike involving 3,000 nurses demanding better pay, better benefits and fair contracts that will better recruit new staff and retain those already on board. The local hospital joins Providence Hood River, Providence Milwaukie, Providence Newberg, Providence St. Vincent in Portland and Providence Willamette Falls in Oregon City.

The three-day strike runs through 8 p.m. Thursday, but temporary nurses were hired to replace striking nurses in a five-day interval.

Hospital Chief Executive Chris Pizzi said that if a replaced nurse reports to work Friday, hospital staff will check the schedule and inform them of their next shift. Some nurses who were not replaced may be contacted by their direct supervisor, known at the hospital as “core leaders.”

“We’re not locking out nurses,” Pizzi said, adding that nurses and union leadership knew the contract replacement period was five days when they notified the hospital of a three-day strike.

Ana Peters, foreground, a nurse at Providence Medford Medical Center, rallies at a protest at the hospital on Tuesday. Rogue Valley Times photo by Jamie Lusch

Whitney Evans, a charge nurse in the operating room at Providence Medford and also the bargaining unit’s vice chair, carried a sign that read, “My bra supports me better than you.” She said she never thought she would have to strike.

“I never thought I’d have to do this, but they forced our hand, and we have to fight for a fair contract,” Evans said.

Evans said that “recruitment and retention is huge for me” because currently “almost half” of the nurses she works with in the operating room are traveling nurses.

She said she is receiving “great support” from her colleagues inside who are non-union.

“I got texts from some of my surgeons today telling us of their support,” Evans said.

Many motorists honked their horns in support of striking nurses as they passed Crater Lake Avenue near the McAndrews intersection. Evans was heartened by the shows of support.

“It feels great to get the support of the community,” Evans said. “We do this for them.”

Providence Medford said in an email that the transition to replacement nurses was “seamless” this morning, and that they are working with “a nationally recognized agency with a demonstrated track record” of hiring qualified, experienced nurses to work during the strike.

“This includes RNs in specialty care areas across our ministry,” the Providence info sheet says.

Providence also released information about their latest wage proposal, which they say raises the base salary for nurses working three 12-hour shifts per week between $17,000 and $22,000.

It shows that starting pay would be $49.13 per hour for a nurse just starting out, 79 cents lower than Asante’s first-year starting pay of $49.92; however, Providence will raise the wage to $50.07 after six months. Wages at year one through five are all less than a dollar per hour higher than Asante’s pay negotiated last year.

Gov. Tina Kotek spoke about the strike during a virtual listening session with EO Media Group on Tuesday.

“I think it’s important for nurses to be heard,” Kotek said.

The governor said she saw sincere collaboration between hospital administration and nurses last year with the passing of the safe staffing law. She said she was “really encouraged” when she signed the bill because of the way hospitals and nurses worked together, and “I want to try to get back to that spot.”

“I think the strike sends a message that Providence isn’t getting it quite right,” Kotek said

Even if Providence is able to maintain services during the strike, Kotek said, “we have to figure this out.” Hospitals are large employers, and hospitals are essential for the community.

“And the people who are doing the work are absolutely paramount,” she said.

Kotek said that she hopes Providence can resolve these strikes as a healthcare system, rather than one individual site at a time.

“I would like them to figure out this as a system — I think that would be best for the state,” Kotek said.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at nmorgan@rv-times.com or 458-488-2036. This story first appeared in the Rogue Valley Times.

Related story: Thousands of Providence nurses striking  this week at six hospitals (Oregon Capital Chronicle, June 18, 2024)

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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