PeaceHealth St. John management in Longview have declared an impasse and walked away from negotiations over their next union contract with the lab professionals, who are represented by the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP). After three months of negotiations, management has refused to offer living wages or viable proposals, and as of Monday, July 31st, have given the union their “last, best, and final offer,” refusing to continue bargaining.
“It is absolutely unprecedented for management to end negotiations this early in the process and without making any viable offers or concessions at the table,” says Jonathon Baker, the President of OFNHP and a Lab Professional at St. John. “During this process, the union has come to bargain in good faith while PeaceHealth’s executives have refused. It's time for them to demonstrate their commitment to their employees and patients by returning to negotiations.”
These workers formally reject what management says in their final offer and demands that management return to the table to bargain in good faith. The union will file an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge over what they say is bad faith bargaining during the union negotiations. Going forward, any change in working conditions that affect these workers will be understood as illegal and additional charges will be filed. The Lab Professionals’ previous union contract expired on June 30th, which means that they could file for a strike at any point. The declaration of an impasse only makes the possibility of a work stoppage more likely.
The union says that part of the catastrophic understaffing that is taking place at PeaceHealth and their lab, which can harm the future of patient care, is the result of historically low wages. The union hopes to win improvements in wages and working conditions that will help to attract and retain qualified staff, yet management has made no steps towards resolving this staffing crisis.
These lab professionals are part of the larger Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP - AFT Local 5017, AFL-CIO), which is also bargaining contracts at PeaceHealth Southwest in Vancouver and PeaceHealth Sacred Heart in Eugene. An additional 950 members of PeaceHealth Southwest’s Service and Maintenance unit will also begin bargaining their contract later this summer, and are facing similar staffing and wage issues. These negotiations come on the heels of a number of union battles, such as the narrowly diverted Kaiser strike in 2021 that would have been the largest healthcare strike in history. If negotiations break down across the PeaceHealth system this could lead to a strike of nearly 1,400 workers across two states, including among these lab professionals in Longview.