Nurses union rally

Registered nurse Debbie Conklin, right, holds a sign reading “MCMC nurses love this community” during a Oregon Nurses Association rally in downtown The Dalles Aug. 19. Speaking with her is registered nurse Chandra Mershon. Both the union and MCMC reported progress in negotiations following an Aug. 25 bargaining session.Mark B. Gibson photo

“After a very successful show of unity at our Aug. 19 rally downtown, MCMC moved closer to our priorities in negotiations,” the union reported in an update published on oregonrn.org.

Stephanie Bowen, Mid-Columbia Medical Center public relations manager, said the hospital has been bargaining in good faith with the nurses union since May. “We have made progress on many issues, but some remain,” she said in an Aug. 27 response to the Columbia Gorge News. Bowen noted that at the Aug. 25 bargaining session, “both teams exchanged full package proposals that were designed to focus on priorities and work towards an agreement. We appreciate the ONA team’s movement and expect further productive discussions,” she said. “MCMC is committed to safe staffing. Oregon law provides for a staffing committee, made up of nurses and nurse managers, to develop a staffing plan, and MCMC continues to follow the staffing plan developed collaboratively in the staffing committee.”

“Like many hospitals and other employers across Oregon, MCMC is facing challenges. We look forward to continuing to work with our nurses and their representative to address those challenges,” Bowen said.

In their online statement, ONA also claimed progress in the negotiations, but noted “there still are many key areas where we are apart, and our bargaining team looks forward to seeing more momentum from MCMC at our next bargaining session.”

No date has yet been set for futher negotiations.

Larena Braseth, a registered nurse who works in the emergency room at MCMC said during the Aug. 19 rally that nurses have been working without a contract since June. About 168 nurses are represented by the union.

“We are negotiating for safe staffing levels,” said Braseth. She said inadequate staffing makes it difficult to retain nurses, especially as hospitals struggle with staffing related to the coronavirus pandemic, which is currently surging in Oregon.

Nurses are working long shifts with inadequate breaks, and that is simply unsafe, she said. “We need a (staffing) baseline, or we could continue to lose nurses,” she explained, noting that emergency rooms have “really impacted that way” as experienced nurses retire or leave.

She said they have already been without a contract during a global pandemic for a year and a half. “If we don’t come to an agreement, we could have even more difficulties getting and retaining staff,” she said. She noted inadequate staffing levels were an issue prior to the pandemic, and getting worse. “MCMC management wants to continue with the status quo,” she said.

According to ONA, progress was made between the union and MCMC regarding meals, breaks and shift differentials. Unresolved issues include pay increases; development of a self-scheduling guidelines; inclusion of meetings, trainings and orientations in posted schedules; and other policies related to how shifts are scheduled and time accrued under various scenarios.