Nurses At St. Alphonsus Medical Center-Ontario File Intent To Picket Over Derailed Contract Negotiations
Ontario, OR – Nurses represented by the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) notified administration of Saint Alphonsus Medical Center-Ontario today of their intent to hold an informational picket on October 12th, 2011. The informational picketing is intended to raise public awareness about the contentious contract negotiations between the union and the hospital as well as educate the public about the nurses’ serious concerns over their ability to give quality patient care due to issues related to recruitment and retention of nursing staff.
Becky McCay, RN, who is the Labor Representative for ONA, said, “None of the nurses who live and work in this community wanted these negotiations to become so difficult. In fact, we believe we have been incredibly generous and have offered to collaborate with the hospital at every turn. Unfortunately, the administration is simply not being reasonable and we feel it is time to take our concerns to the public.”
The nurses have been bargaining over key contract provisions related to creating a competitive wage scale, which is the standard system for paying nurses in the state of Oregon, and that rewards nurses for their commitment to the hospital rather than on a non-industry standard “pay for performance” system. Nurses at the hospital make between $4.50 and $7.50 less than nurses at other comparable hospitals in the region. This is not simply due to the lower amount of base pay the nurses get, but due to the method the hospital uses to assess the nurses’ future increases.
“We believe that our families, friends and neighbors deserve the best possible care delivered by the best possible nurses. When the hospital offers nearly $7 less an hour than other regional hospitals it is very difficult to attract experienced nurses, much less retain them once they are here,” said McCay. The hospital has repeatedly failed to acknowledge that the Saint Alphonsus affiliated hospitals in Baker City and La Grande, which are of similar size, are regional competitors.
Other issues of concern include the hospital’s over-reliance on agency nurses who travel to Ontario for short-term, highly paid jobs. “The hospital spent more than $1.2 million on agency nurses last year. These nurses come and work for short periods of time with limited orientation to our facility, their qualifications are measured by an outside agency, and once their assignment is done they leave with absolutely no commitment to returning to work in our facility. We believe that money would be much better spent retaining and recruiting high quality, experienced nurses who will stay in our community and deliver consistent care to our neighbors and family members,” McCay said. “It would be nice to see that $1.2 million kept in our community.”
The nurses have also called upon the hospital to immediately correct safety, patient care and staffing problems. “Both the Joint Commission and the CMS have identified serious problems with the hospital’s facilities and staffing approach. When the hospital wanted to halt all negotiations with the nurses for 4 to 12 months and focus only on the violations, the nurses offered to partner with the hospital to address these concerns and provide ONA resources to assist with the corrections. The hospital has flatly refused our assistance,” McCay said.
The notification of the intent to hold an informational picket was delivered to hospital administrators on September 29th. The hospital and union meet again for contract negotiations on October 4th and, if no progress is made, nurses and community members will begin informational picketing near the hospital on October 12th between 8:00am and 6:00pm.