BEND, OR -- Nurses at St. Charles Bend plan to picket later this month, to protest the lack of progress in ongoing labor negotiations. Registered Nurse Megan Hanson says they’ve been working without a contract since July, "The hospital just kind of is being sticky and does not want to negotiate on some really key items for us. And, the union and hospital have brought in a mediator, which still has really gotten us nowhere. We do have mediations again coming up on the tenth and eleventh. Hopefully, we’ll move forward with those and we won’t end up having to picket."
But, Hanson tells KBND News she's not optimistic, "We’ve asked for some pretty reasonable Cost of Living increases and they have said, ‘no way.’ We’ve asked to keep our insurance rates the same. Our insurance is extremely expensive and the coverage is less than desirable. So, we aren’t asking for better insurance or an improvement in our premiums. We’re just asking for it to stay the same." She says nurses also want staffing levels to be determined by patient need not the number of patients.
St. Charles Health System recently launched a media campaign, running ads outlining nurse wages and benefit packages. The commercial claims, "At almost $100,000 per year on average, for full time, our nurses are among the highest paid in the nation." But Hanson says, after six years with the hospital, she doesn’t make anything close to that amount. "It’s made a lot of us angry that they are willing to just spit blatant untruths; for what reason? I don’t fully understand other than, my guess would be, to try and turn the community to not support us."
The Oregon Nurses Association says more than 95% of the nearly 900 nurses at St. Charles Bend voted to authorize the "informational picket" if a "fair agreement" isn't reached by Monday, January 21. It's scheduled to take place that day on public sidewalks just outside the Bend hospital; they'll collect non-perishable food for needy families, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Hanson says on-duty staff won't take part.
St. Charles Bend President Aaron Adams issued a statement Tuesday, saying, "We respect our nurses and their right to hold this informational picket. While we have made much progress on the contract over the past six months, we have not yet reached a final agreement. We look forward to meeting again at the bargaining table later this week." He went on to say, "The majority of remaining issues have to do with wages and benefits," and added, "We value our nurses and are proud that they are among some of the highest paid in the nation." Adams also reiterated that the demonstration is not a work stoppage and the hospital will continue to operate normally during the event.