After over 1,300 workers announced that they will walk out to strike this coming Monday, October 23rd, PeaceHealth decided to walk away from the bargaining table. The workers are members of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP, AFT Local 5017, AFL-CIO), many of whom have been bargaining fruitlessly for months. PeaceHealth has additionally taken the unheard of threat to cut the health insurance of these striking workers if their strike lasts into November.
“This may be the most punitive, cruel, and egregious thing I’ve ever seen an employer do as an act against health professionals fighting for their communities,” says Jonathon Baker, OFNHP President. “This is putting these frontline healthcare workers at severe risk of health complications, which is a particularly brutal thing to do amidst a healthcare crisis, especially since many of these health professionals literally put themselves on the line saving lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
While it is legal, it is incredibly uncommon for an employer to sever healthcare access for workers during a strike. This would leave the workers from the Tech and Service and Maintenance Units at PeaceHealth Southwest and the Lab Professionals at PeaceHealth St. John in a vulnerable state, particularly those with chronic health conditions, disabilities, or dependents.
“I am still recovering from cancer and if management severs my health insurance it could throw me, and many other staff, into a dire health crisis,” says Cassie Cook, a CT Tech at PeaceHealth Southwest, who notes that she must receive monthly injections as part of her cancer treatment that cost nearly $3,000 a month if her insurance is canceled. “I simply don’t know what I’m going to do. I am not sure how I am going to survive.”
Additionally, PeaceHealth is offering upwards of $9,000 a week to strikebreaking travelers, which is well over double what they pay these union workers and much more than the workers are asking for in negotiations. These workers are saying the historically low wages and short staffing remain the primary issues, and some of the units are saying that it could require a nearly 40% raise in wages over the course of the contract life to make their pay competitive for the market.
These 1,300 workers are joined by 350 Techs at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart, who have not authorized a strike but are still bargaining and taking worksite action to win a fair contract. If those workers join the strike, that would mean the total number of striking workers would top 1,700 across three hospitals and two states. OFNHP St. Charles Medical Center techs in Bend struck for 9 days over similar issues in 2021, and OFNHP members at Kaiser Permanente the same year approached what would have been among the largest healthcare strikes in American history.
The strike will begin at 6:30am on October 23rd and picket lines will be held at both PeaceHealth Southwest (400 NE Mother Joseph Pl, Vancouver) and PeaceHealth St. John (1615 Delaware St, Longview).