Frontline nurses at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) have taken a major step in the ongoing effort in their ongoing contract negotiations. The 3160 nurses, represented by the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) through the Association of University Registered Nurses (AURN), are opening a strike vote from September 6 to 17. The vote comes after nine months of negotiations and nearly 30 meetings failed to yield an agreement.
The key issues at the bargaining table include guarantees for safe staffing, immediate improvements to workplace safety, retention and recruitment incentives, and prioritizing a fair agreement with OHSU nurses before the acquisition of Legacy Health System.
“We do not want to strike, but we will if that’s what it takes to protect our nurses and patients for years to come,” says Elisa Youngman, RN, BSN, CCRN, AURN President. “We are fighting for our fellow nurses who have suffered immensely under the decision making of OHSU’s executives. We are fighting for our patients who deserve so much better.”
The call for a strike is driven by the growing concerns of nurses who have faced burnout and moral injury due to staffing shortages. Safe nurse staffing is not just about the well-being of nurses but also about ensuring high-quality care and patient access, according to the group.
In addition to staffing concerns, OHSU nurses say they have faced increased assaults, gun violence, and injuries affecting both staff and patients, prompting the demand for immediate improvements in workplace safety.
Furthermore, the nurses are requesting retention and recruitment incentives to ensure that all units and shifts have adequate staff. The nurses’ union leaders are determined to see real change at OHSU and are willing to take action if necessary.
“We must see real change at OHSU now more than ever,” Youngman emphasizes.
In addition to the strike vote, nurses are also accusing OHSU of violating the law, citing violations of the Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA). These violations, deemed unfair labor practices (ULPs), include intimidation, retaliation, side bargaining, interference, and coercion.
Nurses at OHSU have been working without a contract since June 31, and on August 9, they declared an impasse, triggering a 30-day cooling-off period. If ONA members vote to authorize a strike, ONA’s nurse leaders will determine the next steps, including potential strike dates.
ONA says they have committed to providing OHSU with a 10-day notice if a strike is called, allowing management time to take necessary steps to cease admissions and transfer patients or reach a fair agreement with nurses, thereby averting a work stoppage.
ONA’s nurse bargaining team at OHSU is continuing discussions with management under the guidance of government mediators, in the hopes of reaching a resolution before a strike becomes necessary.