Frontline healthcare workers at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, Oregon are confronting an employer denying them much-needed mental health benefits. St. Charles leadership recently announced additional mental health benefits they would provide to every employee except their 150 unionized technologists represented by the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP, AFT Local 5017). They erroneously stated that this was because they had to negotiate with the union, despite the union legally waiving their right to bargain so workers could receive these benefits immediately, just as every other St. Charles employee has. Instead of providing the benefits, St. Charles leadership demanded that these employees give up their right to bargain their next union contract until 2027 and drop the Unfair Labor Practices (ULPs) they have filed that addressed numerous illegal actions that St. Charles management has engaged in.
“I honestly have never seen these kinds of illegal attacks on a union or this level of abuse directed at workers during my entire tenure as a union leader,” says Jonathon Baker, the President of OFNHP. “They are trying to hold mental healthcare hostage so that workers will give up their hard-earned labor rights. We’ve had our differences over the years, but this is callous, cynical, and potentially dangerous for workers.”
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, these frontline healthcare workers, which include the Respiratory Therapists that saved the lives of COVID patients through breathing therapies, faced unprecedented trauma and mental stress. St. Charles leadership has done next to nothing to ensure that these workers can get what they need, and managed to even force a strike in the midst of the pandemic in 2021 by refusing living wages and union rights to these same workers. Now they intend on risking the mental health of their technical employees by refusing to simply offer those workers the benefits that their own leadership admitted were necessary.
OFNHP has filed a ULP over this anti-union aggression, and workers are united across all units to hold St. Charles accountable. This comes amidst a mental health crisis for frontline healthcare workers like these techs, including an epidemic of healthcare worker suicide and mass exit from the healthcare field because of untenable conditions like those found at St. Charles Medical Center.