from ONA, PeaceHealth, and staff reports
The Oregon Nurses Association filed an unfair labor practice charge Jan. 26 with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that PeaceHealth threatened to cancel insurance coverage for striking nurses.
ONA shared information about the unfair labor practice (ULP) in a press release Feb. 2: “The ULP states PeaceHealth broke federal law and its own internal policies by threatening to punish and retaliate against workers and their families for striking. The National Labor Relations Board adjudicates ULPs and can impose financial and legal penalties on companies like PeaceHealth which break federal law. The board is expected to open an investigation into PeaceHealth’s conduct.”
In a document filed with the National Labor Relations Board, the union said that PeaceHealth “indicated that it would treat any employee who engaged in protected activity as if they had quit their employment retroactively. This would apply to any nurse who engaged in protected strike activity, even if they were scheduled to work following the explicit unconditional offer to return to work… This threat of reprisal and retaliation and disparate treatment based on lawful protected activity is patently unlawful.”
PeaceHealth issued a three-paragraph statement in response:
“After notifying the ONA that their initial strike date of Feb. 1 would cause a lapse in benefits for their members, the union pulled their initial notice and filed for the new strike date of Feb. 10. PeaceHealth notified the union of their error to prevent caregivers from unnecessarily losing their health benefits due to the strike timing. PeaceHealth’s employment policy states that benefits expire the last day of the month in which you work – i.e. if an employee’s last day of work is Jan. 31, their benefits expire at the end of January. If an employee’s last day of work is Feb. 1, their benefits expire at the end of February.
“Once PeaceHealth received the strike notice from ONA, we immediately postponed our upcoming bargaining sessions to focus our full attention on ensuring the continued delivery of safe, high-quality patient care during the union’s strike. We look forward to resuming negotiations at a later date, but right now our focus must be on our patients and providing uninterrupted care.
“As is standard practice, PeaceHealth has contracted with an agency to provide experienced temporary replacement caregivers during the strike to ensure patient care continues uninterrupted. This strike will not impact operations at PeaceHealth hospitals and clinics in Lane County. PeaceHealth has successfully negotiated four other long-term union contracts over the last 12 months – including one with ONA – providing wage increases and stability for nearly 3,000 caregivers in Lane County.”
ONA spokesperson Kevin Mealy pointed out that PeaceHealth was applying termination-of-employment policies to the striking nurses.
“As frontline workers who care for sick patients every day, nurses know the importance of high-quality health care. Maintaining health insurance coverage for frontline workers and their families was a factor nurses considered along with serious concerns about PeaceHealth’s current ability to care for vulnerable, home-bound patients and a desire to give PeaceHealth executives another opportunity to do the right thing for this community by coming to a fair agreement and preventing a strike.
“PeaceHealth has a bad reputation for threatening its own workers’ health care. While nurses are deeply disappointed PeaceHealth threatened to terminate health insurance for local nurses and their families at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Home Care Services—we were not surprised. We were surprised by their interpretation of the employment status of nurses on strike and don’t agree with their position. However, ONA was and is prepared to ensure local nurses and their families continue to have access to health insurance throughout this strike regardless of the final dates.
“This is the first time in more than 40 years nurses in Lane County have voted to strike. It is not a decision they took lightly. Nurses are willing to sacrifice to protect their community’s health and safety and address PeaceHealth’s staffing crisis. They are tired of apologizing to their patients for substandard care. Nurses are committed to strike to make sure everyone in this community receives the care and respect they deserve.”
Whole Community News also asked PeaceHealth to comment on statements by ONA representatives and Eugene Springfield Fire Chief Mike Caven about increasing delays in local hospital care for all patients.
Whole Community News: The union says that as PeaceHealth and ONA have not reached a contract agreement, the hospice and home health care nurses have been leaving this specialization, forcing patients who would otherwise receive care in their homes to seek care in emergency rooms and at RiverBend. This causes increased wait times for all patients. This additional burden may also be reflected in Ambulance Patient Offload Time charges. Closure of the University District and consolidation of services at RiverBend have not led to time efficiencies as promised, according to local fire chief Mike Caven. He told the Eugene City Council that his department charged PeaceHealth more in December 2023 than in November as APOT times continued to increase. Would you please share aggregated statistics about wait times for patient care at RiverBend – trend data relating to how long patients are having to wait to receive care.
PeaceHealth spokesperson Joseph Waltasti: “In regards to home heath nurses leaving the specialization, I can tell you we have 99 nurses currently in that role with just one unfilled position.”
ONA is kicking off its strike Saturday, Feb. 10 with a rally at 10 a.m. outside the PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Home Health office, 123 International Way, Springfield. The public is invited to attend and show support.
Photo courtesy Oregon Nurses Association. Caption: ONA nurses and allies hold a community-wide informational picket outside PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Home Care Services Eugene offices Nov. 29.